Music Education


Nearly everyone enjoys music, whether by listening to it, singing, or playing an instrument. But imagine a world without music, or more importantly think of children growing up without knowing or appreciating the beauty of music. Is that a world we really want?

Music has always played a major role in society, and is found in every known culture, past and present, varying widely between time and place. All people of the world, including the most isolated tribal groups, have a form of music, so it is safe to assume that music is likely to have been present in the ancestral population prior to the dispersal of humans around the world, around 55,000 years ago.

Music, one of the five art forms within the arts learning area, the arts being - the theory and physical expression of creativity found in human societies and cultures. It is important therefore that we don’t view the arts as being a past time only for elites, because they are not and it would be wrong to submit to the belief that music and all its benefits are out of reach.

Music helps children and young people to develop and mature. Music can also be a means for young people to develop social activeness and begin their formation as citizens who understand the world and their place in it.


One fundamental purpose of education is to transmit our cultural heritage, and music is a powerful means for communicating that message. Good schools already understand this - the musical heritage of different nations is valuable for students of different cultural backgrounds; the music of a culture is influenced by all other aspects of that culture - including social and economic organisation and experience, climate, and even access to technology! 

The emotions and ideas that music expresses, the situations in which music is played and listened to, and the attitudes toward music players and composers all vary between regions, peoples and periods. In the process of the development of a society, in the spiritual life of an individual as well as in the culture as a whole an important place is occupied by music, which appears a characteristic feature of the given culture.

For example, today’s musical Conservatories, originated in 16th century Naples, which became the first city to establish conservatories to house and train orphan boys. The word "conservatory" came from "conservatorio" which was meant to "conserve" or save the children. The teaching methods developed in The Four Conservatories of Naples were copied all over Europe, and eventually the world, therefore the "conservatory" came to represent an institution specialised in teaching music. Naples began an illustrious legacy producing the finest musicians in the 18th century.


When parents encourage their children to learn a musical instrument they may not fully appreciate the enormous benefits that ensue. Music helps the mind develop and grow and assists individuals in developing their socio-cultural personality; among other things, music can have a strong impact on families, on diversity, and on social integration.

An increase in IQ 

A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQ of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQ was tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.

Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.

The brain works harder 

Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a non-musician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialised music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.

In fact, a study led by Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organisation that supports brain research.



Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, co-founder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants to 5-years-old that involves parents or caregivers in the classes. 

Spatial-temporal skills 

Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualise various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem. “We have some pretty good data that music instruction does reliably improve spatial-temporal skills in children over time,” explains Dr Kyle Pruett, who helped found the Performing Arts Medicine Association. Pruett, a clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practising musician says: “These skills come into play in solving multi-step problems one would encounter in architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming, and especially working with computers.”

Language development 

“When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practised, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.

This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Pruett. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”

Improved test scores 

A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that U.S. students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardised tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socio-economic disparities among the schools or school districts. Johnson compares the concentration that music training requires to the focus needed to perform well on such tests. 

Aside from test score results, Johnson’s study highlights the positive effects that a quality music education can have on a young child’s success. Luehrisen explains this psychological phenomenon in two sentences:



And it doesn’t end there: along with better performance results on concentration-based tasks, music training can help with basic memory recall. “Formal training in music is also associated with other cognitive strengths such as verbal recall proficiency,” Pruett says. “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering verbal information stored in memory.”

Music education is so important; it offers benefits even beyond itself.


Musical training helps develop language and reasoning: Students who have early musical training will develop the areas of the brain related to language and reasoning. The left side of the brain is better developed with music, and songs can help imprint information on young minds.

Mastery of memorisation: Even when performing with sheet music, student musicians are constantly using their memory to perform. The skill of memorisation can serve students well in education and beyond.

Students learn to improve their work: Learning music promotes craftsmanship, and students learn to want to create good work instead of mediocre work. This desire can be applied to all subjects of study.

Increased coordination: Students who practice with musical instruments can improve their hand-eye coordination. Just like playing sports, children can develop motor skills when playing music.

A sense of achievement: Learning to play pieces of music on a new instrument can be a challenging, but achievable goal. Students who master even the smallest goal in music will be able to feel proud of their achievement.

Kids stay engaged in school: An enjoyable subject like music can keep kids interested and engaged in school. Student musicians are likely to stay in school to achieve in other subjects.

Success in society: Music is the fabric of our society, and music can shape abilities and character. Students in band or orchestra are less likely to abuse substances over their lifetime. Musical education can greatly contribute to children’s intellectual development as well.

Emotional development: Students of music can be more emotionally developed, with empathy towards other cultures They also tend to have higher self esteem and are better at coping with anxiety.

Students learn pattern recognition: Children can develop their math and pattern-recognition skills with the help of musical education. Playing music offers repetition in a fun format.

Better SAT scores: Students who have experience with music performance or appreciation score higher on the SAT. One report indicates 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math for students in music appreciation courses.

Fine-tuned auditory skills: Musicians can better detect meaningful, information-bearing elements in sounds, like the emotional meaning in a baby’s cry. Students who practice music can have better auditory attention, and pick out predictable patterns from surrounding noise.

Music builds imagination and intellectual curiosity: Introducing music in the early childhood years can help foster a positive attitude toward learning and curiosity. Artistic education develops the whole brain and develops a child’s imagination.

Music can be relaxing: Students can fight stress by learning to play music. Soothing music is especially helpful in helping kids relax.

Musical instruments can teach discipline: Kids who learn to play an instrument can learn a valuable lesson in discipline. They will have to set time aside to practice and rise to the challenge of learning with discipline to master playing their instrument.

Preparation for the creative economy: Investing in creative education can prepare students for the 21st century workforce. The new economy has created more artistic careers, and these jobs may grow faster than others in the future.

Development in creative thinking: Kids who study the arts can learn to think creatively. This kind of education can help them solve problems by thinking outside the box and realising that there may be more than one right answer.

Music can develop spatial intelligence: Students who study music can improve the development of spatial intelligence, which allows them to perceive the world accurately and form mental pictures. Spatial intelligence is helpful for advanced mathematics and more.

Kids can learn teamwork: Many musical education programs require teamwork as part of a band or orchestra. In these groups, students will learn how to work together and build camaraderie.

Responsible risk-taking: Performing a musical piece can bring fear and anxiety. Doing so teaches kids how to take risks and deal with fear, which will help them become successful and reach their potential.

Better self-confidence: With encouragement from teachers and parents, students playing a musical instrument can build pride and confidence. Musical education is also likely to develop better communication for students.



Music should be central to children’s learning right from the start, yet the priority to offer music in schools is a mixed bag. While many educators appreciate and understand the benefits of a music education, in an educational environment where everything is justified by results and quantified by league tables, music has to some extent become the weakest link: marginalised and superfluous - not a real subject.

Research has found that Learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music. 

It is understood too that the arts complement the sciences. A great saying is: “Mathematics is art, once you understand the science,” and of course it’s not a misprint to see STEM learning frequently referred to as STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.

Music is a key part of our lives - it is everywhere; at an educational level it can provide a liquid link between a diversity of academic subjects whilst offering kids something that is emotional, imaginative, creative and fun. The focus needs to be at the foundation stages of education where music can be a truly inclusive subject and the driving force for learning. This is where there is incredibly patchy provision, a need for real long term investment and a clear strategy. As parents, why not learn how you can support music in your schools?



Many intrinsic benefits to music education include being disciplined, learning a skill, being part of the music world, managing performance, being part of something you can be proud of. Not all students though are prepared or able to commit themselves to the specialised study of instrumental music.


If you are encouraging your child to be musical, it’s important not to oversell how smart music can make you. Music can make your kid interesting and happy and enrich his or her appetite for things that bring pleasure; smarts will come later! 

The primary reason for enrolling your child in a music program is to provide them with a musical education. With luck, they will become more musical, appreciate all aspects of music, and respect the process of learning an instrument or learning to sing, which is valuable on its own merit.


There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. “Music is for music’s sake,” says Rasmussen. The benefit of music education is about being musical. It gives you have a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music. Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.


Someone who is exceptionally musical’ is 19-year-old Sheku Kanneh-Mason from Nottingham, East Midlands. Sheku (shown here) passed the grade eight cello exam when he was just nine, with the highest mark of the year in the UK, (to top it off, he’d only been learning for three years) and, the same year, won a junior scholarship to join the Junior Academy of the Royal College of Music.

Aged 15, he reached the 2015 semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent in a classical music ensemble with four of his siblings. And in May 2016 he became the first black winner in the history of the BBC’s Young Musician contest. In January he released his album Inspiration, which made it into the Top 20 UK Album chart. You may also have seen Sheku enthrall wedding guests and audiences worldwide in St George's Chapel, Windsor, England at the Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in May 2018. 

This talented teenager performed Franz Schubert's Ave Maria, Gabriel Faure's Apres un Reve and Maria Theresia von Paradis' Sicilienne in front of guests while the royal couple signed the register. Music maestros eulogise about Sheku’s ‘big noble tone’, his ‘virtuosity’; his notes ‘as yielding as softened butter’ and fellow cellist and conductor Julian Lloyd Webber has described him as ‘the best young cellist’ in the world. 

Sheku was brought up, the third eldest of seven precociously talented siblings. As a child he’d get up every Saturday at 4.30am to travel to the Royal Academy’s junior school in London. During the train journey from Nottingham he would watch YouTube videos of cellists Jacqueline du Pre and Russian Mstislav Rostropovich. Monday to Friday he attended the local Trinity comprehensive school, where he was in the school football team, hung out with his mates and listened to Bob Marley and the Jackson Five. To celebrate the end of his A-levels (Math, Music and Physics) Sheku even blew off steam on a boys’ holiday to Mallorca.


Growing up with six other musical prodigies made him feel more normal than different, and the Kanneh-Masons’ sprawling home was constantly alive with music. ‘I go in my bedroom, my brother goes in his bedroom and the girls fight over the three pianos,’ he said in an interview. Sheku insists his drive is all his; saying: ‘Although my parents encouraged me to practise, I’ve always wanted to be a musician.’


In the last year, since leaving school, joining the Royal College of Music (a dream come true) and moving to London, Sheku’s career has taken off and he enjoys being a part of the Chineke! Orchestra, the first in Europe made entirely of black and minority-ethnic musicians, and most of his siblings are members. As a sign that he remains resolutely down to earth, Sheku donated a chunk of his concert fees to his old school when he heard that music classes were threatened by funding cuts. “To see other children not have the same opportunities as I had would be a huge shame,” he said.


Well done Sheku!



Whether it is listening together or playing together, an interest in music is universal. Playing instruments is an integral part of any balanced music program, and people who play, usually want to play together. Fortunately there are plenty of opportunities; here is a list of children’s orchestras in the USA and a couple of examples in the UK.


This is a festival that runs in Kent, in England. It has an outreach programme to engage primary schools. Here one can see the problem in a microcosm. Some schools - like the four Invicta Valley Primary Schools have the arts at the centre of their philosophy, others have very supportive head teachers. Some schools are lucky in having a brilliant music teacher or visiting instrumental teachers. Others are simply not interested.


Perhaps part of the problem is that music has traditionally been perceived as being elitist. But I would argue that it is the most inclusive subject if it is at the core of a school’s philosophy and used as a learning tool: a gateway into other subjects. 

I would also argue that professional musicians have to do much more to engage with primary schools and lead this change. Otherwise we run the risk that another generation of children grow-up without exploring the transformational world that is music.


The National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain

The National Children's Orchestra of Great Britain (NCO) inspires children and young people - who are 7-14 years old and are British citizens, residents of or studying in the British Isles - to achieve their full potential through learning, performing and creating orchestral music.


The young musicians in our membership are at the heart of our educational activities, and through large orchestral performances alongside smaller scale child-led projects, we encourage teamwork, responsibility, creativity and leadership skills for all of our orchestra members. We nurture both the buzz of collective performance and the role of the individual within that.


Four strands of activity underpin the NCO curriculum, each of which supports the development of fully rounded young musicians:

Mastery - the art of creating something wonderful through performance

Well-being - we embrace a holistic approach to the minds and bodies of our musicians

Autonomy - developing the individual voices and musical identities of our musicians

Purpose – understanding of the value of a creative education and sharing that knowledge.

Every autumn, NCO auditions over a thousand 7-14 year olds and identifies 600 young musicians to form 11 orchestras: five age-banded national symphony orchestras and six symphonic mixed-age regional orchestras. Many children progress through all our national orchestras gaining up to 7 years of learning opportunities as part of NCO.


A place in NCO gives children access to inspirational residential music courses and monthly regional orchestra rehearsals. As a charity, NCO is open and accessible for all young musicians living in the UK aged 7-14 years old, and we are pleased to offer financial assistance to support fee costs.

Many of our former members are in leading professional orchestras across the UK and further afield.  NCO alumni include winners of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, Guy Johnston (2000), Nicola Benedetti MBE (2004) and Martin James Bartlett (2014), as well as acclaimed conductors Robin Ticciati, Daniel Harding and Jonathan Bloxham.


So there you have it, MUSIC GIVES BACK in so many fabulous ways.

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