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Point of View 

We asked Australian pianist
and music educator Chris Wilder
to answer the following question...

Chris Wilder

February 2009

The Question:
Why should music be taught in schools?

Response by Chris Wilder share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

The usefulness of music in education is not limited to its being taught as a subject in isolation but its benefits can be easily overlooked in the very areas where it accomplishes the most good.

Sarah was doing well while she was in the 'infants' classes at school. Her teachers reported nothing amiss other than her reluctance to join in with her peers at play and some borderline learning difficulties. It was in year three that those difficulties became pronounced enough for the teacher to mention them to her parents at a parent-teacher interview. It gradually became clear that Sarah had a significant developmental delay. Her reading and level of comprehension were acceptable because of support at home but she found it impossible to understand the mathematical concepts taught at year three level, could not and would not do her homework and was never able to complete school assignments. By the end of the year she was a long way behind.

Her ‘year four’ teacher noticed the interest that Sarah had in music. It wasn’t a huge interest and there were few instruments available for her use. The only music that year four enjoyed was provided by the class teacher who had learned to play piano as a child and who liked to sing, but Sarah never walked past the school piano without running her fingers over the keys and often attempted to work out the tunes of songs that she was familiar with. She told her teacher that she had a piano at home but that nobody knew how to play it. Miss Barnes, the teacher, gave Sarah a copy of ‘Mary had a little Lamb’ after playing it for her on the school piano and showing her where the notes were. She told her that playing the piano was a lot like doing a jig-saw puzzle. She had already noticed that Sarah loved to do jig-saw puzzles. She explained that every note on the page had a corresponding position on the keyboard and that it was the job of the musician to put the pieces together in such a way that a melody results. Sarah’s interest was immediate and intense. She grasped the idea so well that more and more pieces of music followed and Miss Barnes began to teach her note values and the benefits of using correct fingering. Sarah received no other formal music lessons even though this was strongly recommended to her family. They simply could not afford it.

By the time Sarah had finished primary school she had taught herself to play ‘hands together’ and was playing confidently at school assemblies. She had by then worked out that doing maths was also a little like a jig-saw puzzle. She put the knowledge to good use and built the reputation of being a good independent worker, often humming as she worked. Music had shaped her life, changing its course from one that appeared to be headed for disaster and providing her with a level of confidence that she would otherwise probably never have achieved. There was no further mention of her developmental delay nor was there a call for extra tuition, although this would probably still have been useful.

Sarah (not her real name) is now in her mid teens and doing well.

The very fact that music is linked with pleasure and that as a school subject it is generally seen as non-threatening makes it a splendid and valuable tool to enable students to transfer skills across various subject areas. Even without the studies that show such evidence, the improvement that we see in children’s learning through their exposure to music makes it desirable that its use be promoted not only as a subject in itself but also woven through the education process as a whole.

In spite of the view that generalist primary school teachers, to whom the subject is often assigned, are frequently seen as ill equipped to teach music, the use of music in the classroom need not and should not be neglected. Is art neglected because classroom teachers are not usually artists? Is there a classroom in Australia where the artwork of the students is not proudly displayed on every wall and across every room? In fact, art is used across every subject area and decorates every student workbook regardless of the topic or the talent of the artist. Why should music be treated differently?

© 2009 Chris Wilder

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