To this day, music education is not a mandatory part of the educational curricula in schools around the world. However, it differs from one country to another; it has a more active role in the European education system where children can ‘choose’ to learn and play music if they wish to. Music professionals and teachers around the world are trying to justify the necessity of including music lessons in school programs, like other mandatory fields such as geography, mathematics, literature and history. This might seem merely in favour of musicians. But even if it is, it is based on scientific studies and educational demands. Considering the advent of technology in recent years, there has been a massive breakthrough in studying and analysing human’s brain and the mechanisms of limbic and cognitive systems. Psychological studies with the help of recent discoveries have investigated and demonstrated the importance and benefits of music and music learning in cognitive and emotional development.
Learning and playing music is not a one-dimensional activity for the body and mind and it does not solely happen in auditory organs and brain parts. Music is a multi-dimensional process for body and mind in all the aspects of listening, learning and playing. During musical processes different parts of the brain and body are involved, such as limbic, sensory and emotional parts and organs. Engaged in learning and playing music, the visual and limbic organs and different brain parts work alongside the auditory organs.
The subject of music-related processes of body and mind goes further from the present discussion. This article explores people’s and parents’ expectations and views on their children’s music education. What happens if music is included as a mandatory lesson in schools, what should parents expect as the result of this type of education?
In recent years in Iran, extra-curricular music lessons have been greeted and welcomed by upper and middle class parents. Parents consider music learning as a valued activity, they seek teachers and music institutes and spend on musical instruments and consequently expect to ‘see’ results and achievements. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with parents expecting results from their investment on their children. The unrealistic view is to expect all children to become ‘professional musicians’ after attending music lessons: to be able to perform and play popular and well-known songs. This expectation often is far from reality.
To clarify the problem here, I have to bring some examples: children learn mathematics at school for years, is it the case that all parents expect their children to become mathematicians? Or a historian as a result of studying history, or an author as a result of studying literature? The answer is probably no. Learning mathematics, history, literature, arts and other fields has a very different objective: to achieve the necessary abilities and knowledge (or at least the important ones) to survive and communicate and live in the world. And to be informed about one’s own and others’ culture. Even in the long run, children will choose different jobs and professions, sometimes irrelevant to their childhood talents and education. It is definitely not the case that every talented child in mathematics ‘will’ become a mathematician!
It is the case about music as well; the goal of music lessons (once a week for an hour!) is ‘not’ to become a professional musician. Music education in the first place should be considered as an educational tool for improving motor and mental skills and nurturing children with culture and arts. To perform music cannot be the ultimate goal for learning music, and children with different backgrounds, abilities and potentials should not be expected to fulfil the unrealistic goal of becoming a perfect performer. Finally music as an ancient and evolutionary phenomenon cannot be reduced to just another form of performing art.
Nowadays in Iran parents evaluate the quality of their children’s music lessons and learning based on their musical performances. This is when this quality can be evaluated with ways other than mere performance abilities. The improvement of children’s mental and motor skills, their ability to sync their movements in playing, being focused, attentive and accurate, as well as memory improvement could be some of the results which parents can look for. These musical skills are somehow similar to the skills one can obtain from sports—synced mental and physical actions and reactions. In music learning and playing children learn to sync their visual and auditory processes consciously and attentively. They learn harmony and synchronisation and anticipation of the resulted sound. Last but not least, music is a human and cultural phenomenon, which transcends culture and promotes cooperation. During the process of learning and playing music, children learn to cooperate, empathise and synchronise themselves with others. They learn to express their feelings through a non-verbal medium and to understand other feelings in the same way. Music can be effective in children’s creativity as well as narrative abilities. It might be better if we—especially parents—reconsider the music learning’s ‘how’ and ‘why’. We should realise that music is far more than playing an instrument, it is about evolution and survival, and it is an effective tool to improve and develop our children’s perception and cognition, and to teach them tolerance and empathy.
Originally published on Underline Magazine:
Underline Magazine, British Council