Classroom music educators are taught and encouraged to be music advocates, especially when music programs are in danger of being cut due to budget restraints. Regardless of your stance on the inclusion of music education in public schools, Independent Music Teachers are certainly advocates of music in general, and perhaps also for the rest of the arts.
On nearly a daily basis, I see articles coming through my facebook feed or Pinterest feed about how “music makes you smarter.” And I have often seen “Why Study Music?” lists on piano studio websites, listing research articles that suggest that music study can improve your cognitive and social skills.
Why do piano teachers tout these articles before parents, suggesting that these are the reasons children should take piano lessons?
Let’s get real. Is that why YOU took piano lessons as a child? Because you wanted to get smarter? Is this why YOU teach piano lessons? To make children smarter?
Even if it may be true that studying music makes you “smarter,” it is not a very good reason to take lessons or encourage others to take lessons. If we are really in search of the activity that will make us or our children the smarter, then someone should do a research study to discover which activities are the best for brain development. And guess what — music might not win. Who knows — maybe chess or tennis is better for your brain. Or yoga or karate or computer programming.
The problem here is that we are confusing the VALUE of music with the SIDE BENEFITS of music study.
Yes, music study can impart important life skills such as creativity, concentration, dedication, diligence, and perseverance. But this is not why I love music. And this is certainly not why I am a piano teacher.
I daresay that most of the music advocacy that I see is dishonest and weak.
Here is an example. As much as the next person, I love an article that makes me feel good and tells me I am probably smarter than the rest of the population. 🙂 But this article is actually not that helpful to music advocacy. It suggests there is a link between music study and high achievers, but does not even attempt to describe what that connection may be. Instead of assuming that people who study music become smarter, what if the truth is that smart people often study music? And as I suggested earlier, even if music DOES have a role in making you a high achiever, this does not constitute a good reason to study music. Music should not be reduced to just another way to make your brain smarter or bolster your resume or increase your chances of getting into college.
Here are two articles that I think every piano teacher should read carefully:
- “We Need More Honesty In Music Advocacy,” by Chad Twedt. This article discusses the problems with music advocacy today and presents ways to identify the weakness and fallacies made in music advocacy today. At the end, Chad also gives suggestions for better music advocacy. It is well worth your time to carefully read this lengthy but thorough article.
- “Unconvincing Arguments for Music Education,” by Elissa Milne. This article examines three commonly used reasons when arguing for the place of music education in schools.
What IS the value of music? Why am I a piano teacher? These are important things for each of us to ponder.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I think we make music and teach music simply because we love music. And we love music because it is beautiful.
I believe in music for music’s sake. I believe that there is something magical about learning how to create beautiful sounds. I believe music is a wonderful and powerful way for humans to communicate feelings, emotions, and stories with others.
What does honest music advocacy look like? I would love to see more stories about how music has made a difference in people’s lives or improved their quality of life. What would you like to see? Why are YOU a piano teacher?
Photo Credit: CC by Robert Couse-Baker