Do Children Need Music?

Olga S. Hardman

They certainly do! Can you imagine life without "Happy Birthday?" "America?" "Amazing Grace?" or Beethovenís "Symphony # 5?" What would a wedding be without the wedding march and the love songs, or a funeral without songs of consolation for the bereaved?

Music is all around us. It is an art form that accompanies all the important events of human life. Research studies have been done which indicate that soft music piped into the delivery room can even make the birth process less traumatic for both mother and child.

It would seem that anything so important to human life would be considered essential to the curricula in all schools. Unfortunately, such is not the case.

In some areas of the country, music has almost been legislated out of the school curriculum. It is one of the first subjects to be eliminated when public funds for education are scarce. This situation will not change unless the American public comes to value music, not only as an aesthetic art form, but also as a medium for developing children to their full potential. 

Music is one of the few subjects that affects each of the ten basic functions of man - intellectual, moral, spiritual, social, economic, political, physical, domestic, aesthetic, and recreational.1 Music educators have always believed that music is a necessary part of the school curriculum because it contributes to human development in so many important ways. Letís look at some of the ways music study enhances child development.

The study of music helps to develop the intellect. The practice necessary for developing music skills requires repeated mental activity and demands coordination of mind and body. This pleasant engagement of mind and body in worthwhile endeavor also improves the sensory and motor perceptions of the individual.

Pleasurable music experiences tend to engage students in constructive ways that encourage their physical and mental well-being. Such intense involvement almost prohibits the intrusion of outside forces. This pre-occupied state is established either in creating or re-creating music. In either situation, it serves to give the creator a feeling of self-satisfaction or self-fulfillment. A well designed program of music education directs studentsí energies in such a way as to give them direction and opportunity for commendable ethical achievement. From these students, then, who have self-satisfaction and self-esteem, we can expect exemplary social behavior.

With rare exception, human beings are born with a built-in musical instrument, i.e., the voice, which is manís instinctive mode of communication. There are times when people feel so intensely happy, sad, forlorn, or simply overwhelmed with pleasure or grief that they either shout for joy or wail in agony. It would be a gross waste of natural resources not to develop the use of this most beautiful of all musical instruments through a comprehensive music education program for all students.

Many studies have shown that the study of music (singing, in particular) improves speech, reading, and the use of language. Because the language of music is orderly, participation in music making helps to instill an orderly thought process, which is necessary to the production of good language. Since the flow of the melodic line, as well as the rhythmic patterns and dynamics, are written to compliment the text of a song, the act of singing helps to convey the meaning of the words. Hence, it can be said that through the study of vocal music, the comprehensive vocabulary can be increased.

Rhythm, a fundamental element of music, is basic to all the functions of our bodies and those of the universe, as well. Hearts beat, lungs breathe, sun and moon rise and set, waters ripple and flow, and all of these phenomena occur in precise rhythmic patterns. To be exposed to music study on a regular basis tends to help students become aware of and attuned to their own body rhythms and those of the universe.

The practice of reading music serves to improve the peripheral vision because the eye is forced to encompass a larger span of the page than it is in reading the text only. It serves, also, to increase reading speed because the eye is forced to move ahead so as not to distort the rhythmic flow of the music. With continual practice in reading music, the speed of reading words almost always increases.

An aesthetic musical experience is an excellent emotional

catharsis. Either to produce music by singing or playing an instrument, alone or with others, or to consume music by listening to it, is an excellent way to relieve tension or to "let off steam." It is also a socially acceptable way to accomplish these ends. Since our mental hospitals and jails are currently filled with people who apparently have been unable to ventilate their emotions in socially acceptable ways, it appears that music is a socially valuable subject to have in every school curriculum.

Although most students will not pursue a career in music, there are many productive careers available in the field. Most of these, however, require a degree of skill that can only be achieved with many years of practice. This demands that students be introduced early to the discipline of music study. If this does not occur in the elementary schools of this country, numerous talented students will find it too late to start preparation for a music career later in life.

Recreation is another function of participation in music activities. Through music, one becomes relaxed and refreshed - literally, created anew. More importantly, music enables one to re-create. Alone of the non-verbal arts, through participation, music gives students a chance to co-operate, to co-create masterworks together with the genius who created them in the first place. In no other art form is the very being of the student so necessary - to collaborate, to re-create. Our present society, being especially conditioned by leisure, particularly demands greater emphasis on re-creation and recreation.

If the aesthetic function of music is one of the common denominators of all people, then it is clear that aesthetic education is a requirement for the total development of all students. With Plato, we might say that we must make it our goal to help all students to love the good and beautiful and to hate what is bad and ugly.

Over the past several years much research has been done in the field of gerontology. The consensus of opinion among these researchers is that people must be prepared in their youth for a healthy, happy, and useful old age. If these valuable skills, which can be acquired through the study of music, are not learned by the students in our schools, they are not likely to be acquired later in life.

Surely, when parents see the advantages of a good music education program, they will demand such programs for their children. The economic condition of the school system must not determine whether or not music is included in the curriculum. The truly impoverished are those students who have been denied the study of music in their schools.

1 Music Education in Action Edited by Archie N. Jones,

Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1960

© 1990 Olga S. Hardman