FOCUS ON STUDENTS: Award-Winning Student Essayists Tell School Board Members Why We Need Music Education in Our Schools

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Each year, School Band & Orchestra Magazine conducts a nationwide essay contest for 4th through 12th grade students. The 2012 Essay Contest asked students to write 250 words or less on:

“Dear School Board Member – why we need music education in our schools…”

The benefits of a comprehensive, sequential, in-school music education taught by highly qualified music educators are well documented in a growing body of research and thousands of personal stories. Music education in our schools offers students the opportunity to build skills that are a means to creative expression and last a lifetime, helps boost their academic achievement, and prepares them for the challenges of the 21st century workplace. Music education supports students’ healthy social development and enhances the quality of their lives.

The United States Department of Education designates arts education as part of the core curriculum in our public schools. In these essays, students express why it’s important to them that music remains a vital element of the core curriculum.

Students Say: Music Education Classes Unify Students, Build 21st Century Skill Sets, and Nurture Appreciation of Diversity

The ability to work together as a team is more important than ever before. To successfully meet life’s challenges, tomorrow’s leaders must be alert and attentive, be able to adapt to change with flexibility, and communicate effectively to reach common goals.

A 2008 study by Neville et al, states: “Early childhood training in instrumental music improves visual focus, active listening and students’ abilities to stay on task; continued music education throughout adolescence reinforces and strengthens attentiveness.”

Research validates these powerful statements from students who submitted essays:

“School systems must include music programs to give opportunities for students to learn skills, attitudes, and habits applicable to life. These skill sets cannot be copied from a book, recited, or assessed by means of a standardized test. Instead, one experiences them in a creative and expressive environment. If students are to fully embrace the rich and diverse cultures of the world; if they are to live up to their full cognitive potential; if they are to prepare for living and working in a technologically driven world; and if they are to live a life alive and wide-awake to the possibilities yet to come, this promise of the fine arts within education must be realized. (Katie, 17, Maryland)

“Deeper than academics, music touches the mind as well as the soul, allowing students to form connections that reach across time, space, and social barriers. My school’s band is a socially diverse group that envelops all kinds of stereotypes. Despite these divisions, these students identify with one another because they can say “we are the band” and make gorgeous music. During a time in students’ lives when they are so socially divided, unity through music is a very healthy experience. Most importantly, when students walk into a music class, they can leave all their struggles at the door. Music classes are safe environments where students can pour their entire beings into beautiful expressions of raw emotion. Teenagers find refuge from surrounding pressure and swirling emotions when they make music together.” (Emily, 16, Washington)

“In bands and orchestras, performers have specific roles – if one part is missing, then the ensemble is incomplete. Such an environment allows students to mature, gain responsibility, and acquire patience. Not only must they be patient and allot time to practice their parts in order to master technique, they must also acquire the skill of working harmoniously with the rest of the group. The maturity and responsibility that the students acquire serve as foundations for future aspirations – where exemplary teamwork, unity, and dependability are important assets. (Amy, 17, California)

“The saying “practice makes perfect” is proven when learning to play an instrument. When a student practices, progress can be seen almost daily. A group of musicians playing together can make beautiful music. When the members of a band work together, each person depends on other members to be successful. This is an important lesson in life. It sometimes takes many people working together to accomplish a goal. (Caroline, 12, Virginia)

Students Say: Music Education Helps Improve Grades, Develops Creativity, Enhances Problem-Solving Capabilities

In 2010, a 12-year analysis of test scores by The College Board showed that students with four years of high school arts and music classes have higher SAT scores than students with one-half year or less. According to “Music Matters,” published by the Arts Education Partnership, music education helps students to improve recall and retention of verbal information; advances math achievement; and boosts reading and English language arts skills. Nearly 100% of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology (for high school students) play one or more musical instruments.

Students’ personal experiences support these research findings. In their essays, a keen awareness of the role music education plays in the bigger picture of their total academic achievement is evident:

“Band tends to work like a normal classroom as well, especially with the progression of skills. Much like math, where the student advances from simple multiplication to algebra to trigonometry, a band student must progress on their instrument starting with the fundamentals of music. They must then refine their sound, with the practice of scales and rhythms, to become more proficient with their instrument, much like homework. A band student must put this practice into context, similar to application of principles in math, by reading music and creating a beautiful sound with others in the band. (Brinley, 17, Georgia)

“Having one eye on the music, another on the teacher, and playing at the same time requires a great deal of focus from a student, and our minds slowly start to use the same amount of attentiveness in all other classes as well. About three fourths of the orchestra students in my local high school are in honors or advanced placement classes. Music classes are a must for every school. They are needed for a student to reach their maximum potential. (Insia, 13, Illinois)

“We need music education in our schools because music classes contribute to the development of creativity. Music education also allows students to think better; studies have shown that music education increases students’ IQs and improves test grades. It also lowers recidivism rates, increases self-esteem, and helps develop better problem solving and communication skills. I can see this in me because my grades have been improving slowly and I have also gotten more involved in school. (Sujean, 16, Washington)

Students Say: Music Education is a Universal Language with Intrinsic Value That ‘Goes Beyond Getting a Perfect GPA’

Lewis Thomas (1913-1993) was an American physician, poet, etymologist, policy advisor, researcher and renowned writer. He served as Dean of Yale Medical School and was President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute, among many other accomplishments. In his book, The Medusa and The Snail (winner of the 1979 National Book Award), Thomas wrote: “We are a spectacular, splendid manifestation of life. We have language . . . We have affection. We have genes for usefulness, and usefulness is about as close to a ‘common goal’ of nature as I can guess at. And finally, and perhaps best of all, we have music.”

Young music students align with Thomas’ thoughts:

“We need music education in school because music is a universal language, which builds unity in diversity, and eases communication. I come from India, where music is considered “Nada Brahma,” which means “Sound is God.” While everyone speaks about the benefits music gives in our everyday life, such as mind/brain development, social/leadership skills, academic achievement, and self discipline, music also gives spiritual and moral discipline. Music is an ocean; it has no language or cultural barriers. For a listener, music is a means of joy. As a violin player, I have experienced that music becomes joy. There are a lot of things music teaches us in life that our educational books could never teach. Learning music teaches virtues which help me in life beyond just getting a perfect GPA. (Devayani, 12, California)

“Orchestra concerts are some of my favorite middle school memories. The camaraderie with fellow musicians and the beautiful music we make during orchestra inspires me to continue studying the violin. I believe that music education has a vital role in schools. Music classes have taught both leadership and cooperation. The patience and perseverance I have learned from tackling difficult orchestra pieces has helped me achieve academically, too. In band, orchestra and choir, students develop self-confidence and poise by performing in front of an audience. For kids who don’t have access to private music teachers, band or orchestra gives them the opportunity to learn an instrument. Our school district has faced serious budget problems. Some consider the arts a luxury and have suggested cutting these programs to balance the budget. Fortunately, students, parents and teachers have spoken out in support of music education. Just like me, they’ve realized that orchestra and band provide some of the most rewarding experiences in public education. (Eliza, 14, Texas)

“I was born with hemiplegic cerebral palsy and at a very young age my parents enrolled me in a viola program as an alternative to physical therapy. Now I am in 7th grade and am proud to say I am the section leader for the violas in my school’s orchestra. I struggle physically to get on time to class or participate in team sports and kids might think there is something off with my coordination. But when I represent my school at performances and competitions my confidence builds, and I forget my daily challenges. (Alex, 12, Illinois)

To read the complete essays by the 2012 School Band & Orchestra Essay Contest winning students, or to learn about the 2013 competition, please visit School Band & Orchestra.

-- Debra Bresnan is a communications consultant for and a member of its Steering Committee. She produces web content, newsletters and other written materials for businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals. Contact: