Music to my parental ears
The odd thing about music in education is that although just about everyone you ask says it’s important, very few of them will then come out with a coherent reason as to why this should be.
This is a shame because it genuinely adds something to someone’s life – very few people will use it directly in their workplace but just about everyone will have some appreciation of it and it will help them relax, unwind and lead a more fulfilling life.
My daughter has been playing violin since she was six and has gained in confidence and grown as a person.
Ways of introducing music as play, like the Suzuki method, which is used to teach violin and other instruments, avowedly don’t try to make professional musicians out of everyone but instead add to this “well roundedness”.
The idea is that kids learn to play with instruments first, as if they were toys, then they play-act bowing, then they learn to perform in front of people. After that, they learn to read music. Beginners are often very motivated. Other schemes such as those on offer at My Music Room get the parents involved in the games too.
The principles are simple - first play with the equipment, then play-act as if you’re interacting, then actually do it and later learn what it looks like written down. This is an exact replication of how children learn to speak – it’s not surprising it’s often an effective way of teaching.
This sort of method produces some very keen hobbyist musicians as well as people who go on to more serious things. It works precisely because it imitates natural learning. Maybe there’s something to be learned about other subjects from this – I’m no educationalist but observing how kids play and learn simultaneously must surely tell us something about how the process works.
Music is a good end in itself as well. We can have endless debates about whether education in the arts is as productive or beneficial as the 'harder' subjects and people have done so. You could usefully observe that children are naturally creative, and as we all start as kids it makes sense to develop our creative abilities as much as every other element of ourselves.
The reasons I’m pleased my own child is learning violin are subtly different. First it came from her; we didn’t urge her, didn’t push the idea, she just became interested in listening to violins on TV and wanted to take part. Any parent who had the choice – which is a privilege, I’m aware – would want their child to have that chance if possible.
If there’s one job shared in common by parents and teachers alike then it’s arming our young people to go into the world and eventually cope for themselves.
The knowledge that she’ll be able to go to college or later when she’s working, find out where there’s an amateur orchestra playing and build an instant social life in doing so is something I find very reassuring.
OK, she might chuck it all in – it’s her life, she has that right. But if education isn’t about opening people’s options as far as possible and giving them the choice, including music lessons, then what’s it for?
Guy Clapperton is a journalist specialising in writing about technology as well as small business for several major broadsheets. He broadcasts occasionally on BBC Radio stations and reviews the newspapers on the BBC News Channel.