On 14 November2017, the grand opening of a Dutch project called ‘Méér Muziek in de Klas'(‘More Music in the Classroom’) took place in Groningen, The Netherlands (NOS,2017). While this event only marked the start of a regional project, thefoundation’s main goal is to have proper music education introduced into thecurriculum of all Dutch state primary schools by 2020.
At this opening, a youngboy spoke. He considered music education to be essential, because “it has apositive influence on children’s achievements. Also, making music makeschildren calm and happy.” Now, it might be fair to say that the boy did not comeup with these exact words himself, but there may be some truth in them. Music education can be defined asteaching pupils how to develop musical skills by imitating and listening to abroad variety of musical genres, how to acquire and use musical knowledge (e.g.
when making their own music) and how to learn to recognise tones, pitchand other dimensions (study of eurhythmics) (Department for Education, 2013). Focusing on the individual rather than the entireclass, private schools already offer these music classes. State schools, fundedby the government and thus free of tuition fees, on the other hand, often seemto neglect the arts subjects. It is often argued that curricular music classesare a waste of time and money, but this appears not to be true. In fact, thereseems to be a connection between music education and pupils’ cognitive skills,which can be defined as brain activities related to problem-solving andlearning. Therefore, music education should become a bigger part of thecurriculum of state schools, as this might boost pupils’ well-being and evenincrease their learning ability. To start offwith, music education should be compulsory because it has several healthbenefits. Obesity among young people hasbeen a problem for a few decades.
In early October 2017, the NCD Risk FactorCollaboration published an article in the medical magazine The Lancet, which illustrated the problem with appalling numbers.The report revealed that in the last forty years obesity among children hasincreased immensely. In 1975, 5 million girls were obese. Forty-one yearslater, this number has grown to 50 million. Similar numbers were found amongboys; in 1975, 6 million boys were obese, which grew to 74 million heavilyoverweight boys in 2016 (Abarca-Gómez, Leandra et al, 2017). Shocking reportssuch as this have sparked the idea that children should exercise more in orderto prevent or reduce obesity among children. One of the ways to achieve thisseems by letting them play a musical instrument for at least an hour every day.Burggraaf et al.
(2013) suggested that making music, be it singing or playingan instrument, has effects similar to physical exercise training. The group ofparticipants was divided into two groups, one of which consisted of musicians,and another that was made up of a non-music-playing group. Then, blood pressureand heart rate were measured.
As it turned out, the participants in themusicians’ group had a significantly lower blood pressure than the controlgroup, as well as a lower heart rate. It must, however, be noted that thelatter result was a statistical trend rather than a significant difference(Burggraaf et al., 2013). Though a high blood pressure is not an immediatedanger, it may lead to, for instance, heart disease, heart failure, stroke orkidney disease (NHS, 2016).
While these risks are mostly long-term effects,serious attention should be paid to preventing high blood pressure in children.High blood pressure is most often caused by obesity (Beckerman, 2016). Seeingas the number of children with obesity has increased immensely, there is allthe more reason to find ways to put a halt to this, and this may be havingchildren play music on a regular basis. Not only is frequently engaging in music lessonslikely to positively affect children’s overall health, it might also boosttheir self-esteem in the long run. Costa-Giomi (2004) suggested that self-esteemof Year 7 students had improved after three years of learning how to play thepiano, starting with no experience. Children appeared to be more confidentabout themselves and their abilities than the pupils who never received anysort of musical training. Self-esteem seems to play a significant role in achild’s life; children with high self-esteem are less likely to doubt their ownabilities.
Those with more self-confidence are able to focus on their abilitiesand positive characteristics. This allows them to handle failure in, forexample, their academics results better than their peers with who have lowself-confidence (Dodgeson & Wood, 1998). Studies have even suggested thathaving low self-esteem as a child or adolescent may increase their risk of, forexample, developing depression, attempting suicide or having a child in theirteenage years (Dubois & Tevendale, 1999; Emler, 2001). Considering thatsuicide is the third leading cause of death among teens (BBC, 2017), theconnection that music education and self-esteem seem to have is definitelyworth looking into. Of course, making music education mandatory might not fullysolve these problems, but it may very well pull some weight, as it seems tohelp pupils increase their self-esteem, which has shown to play a fair role intheir mental health.
Admittedly,the main reason why state schools fail to offer curricular music programmes is thatthese courses come at a price. Literally. Instruments are expensive, playingspaces need to be hired, hosting a concert costs extra money and last, butcertainly not least, employing professional music instructors is a must if youwant to offer children proper music education. In the 2011 fall edition of Journal of Education Finance, MarkFermanich estimates that these costs add up to an average of $187 per student.This means educational institutions will either have to cut back on the regularcurriculum budget or rely on governmental funds or financial contributions madeby parents to be able to introduce music classes. Some parents might objecthere that these costs are high, but they are not nearly as high as health carecosts caused by, for example, obesity among students, which would make anestimated total of $19,000 per obese student, suggests Duke Global HealthInstitute (2014). The expenses of music education may be large, butconsidering the benefits for the children, it may be worth the costs.Furthermore,it can be argued that children who have enjoyed music classes do not scoresignificantly better on tests than peers who have not had music classes.
A 2013 Harvardstudy showed that the cognitive skills of preschool children do not improveafter they have participated in music lessons and that it is mainly a matter ofcoincidence when experiments with music education give positive results. Theresearch involved toddlers in a six-week music programme, after which they hadto retake three tests. The results were then compared to pre-assessments andthe results of tests taken by a control group, who did not participate in themusic programme or take part in a visual arts course, which another group oftoddlers did.
It became apparent that the preschool children who were part ofthe music group did decidedly better on three out of the four tests compared tothe visual arts group. However, in comparison to the control group, the musicgroup failed to score decidedly better results. It can, therefore, be concludedthat the cognitive skills of toddlers do not improve after taking six weeks ofmusic lessons. (Mehr, Schachner, Katz & Spelke, 2013). Music education maythen not be beneficial to the school results of preschool children, this is nottrue for students who are in secondary school. Morrison’s article “MusicStudents and Academic Growth” (1994) suggests that students who are involved inthe music programme(s) at their school are more likely to receive specialrecognition at their school. For example, 29.
5 percent of the music studentswere elected class officer, and 28.6 percent was awarded an academic honour,opposed to the expected 22.8 percent. The expected percentage can be explainedas follows: of all the students that participated in the study was defined as amusic student. It was thus expected that these music students would make up22.8 percent of the students receiving such an honour. Not only does musiceducation seem to have positive effects awards and honours-wise, but alsolooking from an academic perspective, it appears to have a positive influenceon students.
In his article, Morrison draws a comparison between the academicachievements of music participants and nonparticipants. An example toillustrate this is that the percentage of music participants reporting Bs inScience was 63.8 percent, whereas 55.
3 percent of the non-participants reportedthe same grade. Another example is the number of As that were received inEnglish Language Arts: 59.9 percent of the non-music students reportedreceiving As, opposed to 70.4 percent of the music students (Morrison, 1994).
It seems to be safe to say that the music students received higher grades andmore honours, and therefore playing a musical instrument might be anacademically beneficial thing to do as a student.Whilesome people are convinced that teaching music at school might not be beneficialto students, giving music education a more prominent place in the curriculum ofstate schools actually seems to be a good idea. One of the first things thatseem to come to people’s minds is the expense of music lessons.
It is true thatmusic programmes come at a price, but so do child obesity and mental illnesses,both of which could possibly be, although partially, prevented by providing aregular musical engagement in the classroom. Additionally, music education doesnot seem to ameliorate the cognitive skills of preschool children. However,studies suggest that older students might actually benefit intellectually fromfrequent music classes. In this light, making music lessons mandatory from Year7 and onwards seems to be the right thing to do. Ultimately, it comes down to whatis deemed more important: the health, self-esteem and academic accomplishmentsof school children and young adults, or the school’s budget.