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Why Study Music?

Why Study Music?

Fifteen years ago I was teaching music at a K-12 private school in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That was the year I realized that music is probably the only subject that middle school students believe they know more about than their teachers. Middle school students might hate their math, science, or history classes, and they may think the teachers are complete idiots, but they don’t believe they know more about math, science, or history than the teacher does.

In music class, the educational world seems upside down to them. The day they first realized that I was a musical fraud was the day students rushed into my class and screamed, “They shot Tupac!” I should have known better than to ask “Tupac who?” Of course, things got even worse a couple of days later when they told me Tupac Shakur was really still alive, hiding out somewhere in South America. I couldn’t help asking if he and Elvis had started a band.

Why do we study music in schools?

Isn’t it enough to know what you like? Why is it important to know anything about Bach, Beethoven, or Dizzy Gillespie? Who cares what a fugue is? They never play a fugue on my radio station, do they? And why can’t they make up their minds about who wrote which symphony? If Haydn wrote more than a hundred of them and died in 1809, how did Beethoven write the Ninth Symphony in 1824? Why teach someone to be a musician? If someone wants to be a musician, all he or she really needs to do is learn a couple of chords and swear a lot. Good looks and a choreographer wouldn’t hurt, but music schools don’t teach those things.

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There has actually been a great deal of research on the value of studying music. The NAMM Foundation maintains a terrific summary of some of this research on their website (see link below). Here are just a few excerpts:

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  • “Middle school and high school students who participated in instrumental music scored significantly higher than their non-band peers in standardized tests. University studies conducted in Georgia and Texas found significant correlations between the number of years of instrumental music instruction and academic achievement in math, science and language arts.”*
  •  “Music majors are the most likely group of college grads to be admitted to medical school. Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. He found that 66 percent of music majors who applied to med school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. For comparison, (44 percent) of biochemistry majors were admitted. Also, a study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math.”*
  • “A ten-year study, tracking more than 25,000 students, shows that music-making improves test scores. Regardless of socioeconomic background, music-making students get higher marks in standardized tests than those who had no music involvement. The test scores studied were not only standardized tests, such as the SAT, but also in reading proficiency exams.”*

With evidence like this, why would anyone NOT study music?

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* Thanks to the NAMM Foundation:


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