The Critical Role of Music Education

girl playing a flute in school

Music education has long been at risk in schools due to limited budgets, the rigors of standardized testing, and a range of other factors. Now, as school districts face even tighter budgets and struggle through the difficulties of managing education in the midst of a global pandemic, music and other forms of arts education are even more likely to get cut. While making tough decisions is a necessity for many administrators right now, removing music education ultimately harms students. The negative impacts of cutting “non-essential” subjects like music present themselves in a number of ways.

three kids sitting on the floor playing drums

First, educators who don’t teach core subjects like math and English can provide critical insight into how the larger community of students is doing and the impact of school practices on different types of students. This is because they often work with a large cross section of students from across grade levels, classrooms, and academic strata. Core classroom teachers may have more depth of knowledge about their classroom of students, but art, music, and physical education teachers often have a familiarity with a greater number of students in a school. Cutting those subjects removes educators who are playing an important role from the community.

music teacher with several young students

Additionally, activities like playing music during the school day helps students who are kinesthetic learners engage through the tactile experience of playing an instrument, marching with a band, or adding body movement to a song. Especially for students who don’t do well sitting still in a classroom and learning passively, the chance to learn something with their hands or their voice can be an important experience. Mixing up the routine of sitting at a desk can help a range of learners be successful and providing multiple avenues for youth to engage with the school community allows them to build relationships with each other and their teachers.

violinist in a school orchestra

Two of the most important benefits of music education are that it aids in youth development and supports academic achievement. Research shows that music instruction can help improve attention, memory, and communication skills for youth whose brains are still growing. Further, music education programs can help close achievement gaps. Students from high-income homes traditionally do better in school that those from low-income families. Some studies demonstrate, however, that increasing access to music instruction has helped improve academic performance of low-income students who were not initially meeting academic standards.

little girl playing a drum

Many people may think about music education and consider it to be a luxury – a non-essential part of education that is nice to have, but not the core of what schools should be focused on. However, we know that music is a critical aspect of many young people’s education. Whether students go on to play music for their whole lives, or simply join their middle school orchestra for a year to make new friends, when youth and their teachers gather together to make music together, they are doing important work. Now more than ever we need to support community-based music education and music instruction in schools to help support kids in a time of instability and high stress.