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Learning music educates mind and soul, but often falls to school budget cuts

5th June 2015

Much evidence indicates the cognitive and learning improvements associated with children learning music yet availability to such life-changing lessons and programs is haphazard at best. Over recent decades, research into the value of music education has illuminated an almost boundless list of flow-on benefits for students, from areas of language development to spatial awareness. However, while these benefits are largely undisputed, music programs are often among the first to be sacrificed in response to ever-tightening school budgets, particularly in public schools.

Music education advocates, who believe strongly in the inherent value of music in schools, claim that music is an “essential art” with proven benefits for students in terms of cognitive development, academic achievement and wellbeing. They argue that music should be valued equally alongside reading, writing and numeracy in school curricula, and made available to all students, rather than treated as an expendable “extra”.

Research has shown that music education improves cognitive abilities and enhances academic achievement across many areas of the curriculum including science, mathematics, history and languages. Music is considered important in the development of listening and concentration skills and has been found to improve language development, comprehension, creativity, memory, spatial awareness, communication and higher order thinking skills. Flow-on benefits have also been noted in the areas of student engagement, self-esteem, citizenship and emotional expression. As a social activity, music education enhances a school’s atmosphere and helps create a sense of community both inside and outside school grounds.

In short, music has been found to make students better learners, superior thinkers and enriched human beings. More recent research has found that music education has unique benefits for brain development and activity; noting that it “primes” the brain for learning and creates neural pathways in a way not encountered in other disciplines.

How is music education implemented overseas?

Many countries have strong, well-funded music programs that are supported by a national belief in the value of music (and arts) education. For example, music education thrives in countries like Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, where it often extends beyond the classroom to include extra-curricular musical instruction that is publicly subsidised. Well known Swedish music producer and songwriter, Martin Sandberg, professionally known as Max Martin, says his significant musical success is entirely the result of his Swedish public education.

In Canada, England and the United States, music education is less consistent; varying from district to district and, indeed, from school to school. In Canada, 38 per cent of respondents to a recent survey reported that music is either taught by teachers with no musical background or not taught at all. Similarly in the United States, music programs, particularly in public schools, are often underfunded or abandoned altogether under budgetary pressure.

While funding is still an issue for music education in England, a network of 123 music hubs was set up by the government across the country in 2012; enabling access to a musical instrument for more than 1 million children. Other advocacy initiatives have also invigorated the musical experience for students, for example “Link Up” in the United States, where schools are paired with orchestras culminating in joint performances at Carnegie Hall.

Read more on The Age website