FOCUS ON STUDENTS: Award-winning Students Express Why Music Education is Key to a Well-Rounded School Curriculum

In This Article:

“The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of the nation, is close to the center of a nation’s purpose – and is a test to the quality of a nation’s civilization.”
-- President John F. Kennedy

Every year, School Band & Orchestra Magazine holds an essay contest for students from grades 4-12. The theme of the 10th annual contest was:

                “I believe music must remain a part of the school curriculum because…..”

Ten student essay winners captured how music education programs help keep them engaged in school and assist them on their way to becoming responsible citizens. For them, music education is about much more than simply learning to play the notes on a page: it’s about teamwork, communication, discipline, discovering the power of self-expression, joy and enjoyment, and developing respect for others.

Music education clearly plays an important role in preparing young people to participate fully in their personal lives, in their career and as members of a global community.

Now More Than Ever, it’s time to bring forward young musicians to be heard by leaders in your community. Young music students have wisdom and a unique ‘frontline’ experience that serves as a powerful reminder of why music education is so important – not only to them as individuals, but to our society as a whole.

Students Say: Music Education Builds Cultural Understanding & Communication Skills

Daniel A. Carp, Eastman Kodak Company Chairman and CEO, believes that “Music is one way for young people to connect with themselves, but it is also a bridge for connecting with others. Through music, we can introduce children to the richness and diversity of the human family and to the myriad rhythms of life.”

In 2006, the US House of Representatives passed Concurrent Resolution 355, which stated, “The skills gained through sequential music instruction, including discipline and the ability to analyze, solve problems, communicate and work cooperatively, are vital for success in the 21st century workplace.”

These students agree with our nation’s leaders:

  • Music gives kids something to look forward to in the school day. If students are able to learn music, it may change their lives and their perspective of the world and what they decide to become  of themselves when they get older. Whether it’s singing or playing a musical instrument, learning music is essential for a young mind because they can express their feelings and ideas of life in song. (Page, Age 11, Texas)
  • I used to worry a lot and teachers were concerned about my anxiety. But being in a band helped me to feel included and gave me a sense of belonging. It helped my anxiety go away because I believed in myself. I learned what it meant to be included. Music teaches respect and inclusion. (Kolton, 10, Ontario Canada)
  • I took violin lessons with a Japanese teacher who spoke no English, and it seemed we had no way to understand each other. However, I soon realized music conveyed my teacher’s messages better than language could. During my time abroad, I discovered that music permeates all boundaries; it truly is the “universal language.” (Audrey, 16, Texas)
  • Music inspires us to come out of our shells and show everyone who we are. It is the gift of self expression…. Music lets us all see the world without using our eyes. It lets our community look at us and be proud of what we do. It gives students a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Most importantly, it brings everyone together. (Truc, 14, California)

Students Say: Music Education Teaches Hard Work Pays Off & Stimulates a Love of Learning

96% of school principals interviewed in a 2006 Harris Interactive Poll agree that participation in music education encourages students to stay in school. Further, 89% of principals feel that a high-quality music education program contributes to their school achieving higher graduation rates. In their own words, these students articulated the same conviction that school principals have when discussing music education’s impact on student growth and achievement:

  • It helps students accomplish things they never knew they could. As a young woman I have many dreams, many goals, many things I want to accomplish. I wanted to prove that I could do something special. I wanted to show my talent. I wanted to be known, be someone. My dream lives on playing for people to see, and the music programs in my schools have made it possible. They encouraged me to be me, and let me live my dreams. (Neydi, 13, California)
  • Our school was the underdog of the competition. However, thanks to long hours of rehearsal, individual practice, and a passion for music, we won first place in musical performance, first place in its class, and first place in show. Never could textbooks provoke such a feeling of accomplishment that my peers and I experienced at that event, and we owe it all to music. (Gabrielle, 17, Tennessee)
  • Music embodies much of what we should value most in education: learning stimulated by genuine curiosity and wonder. Music is a quintessential life-long learning experience. Technical expertise gives life to great music, but that is not enough. Practice, diversity, emotion, life experience, improvisation, history, and collaboration combine to expand its impact and relevance; few things in school or life offer as much potential for deep and meaningful learning. (Sam, 17, California)

Students Say: Music Education Develops Self-Esteem & Readiness to Meet Challenges

“Musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visio-spatial processing, mathematics and IQ.” -- Dr. Laurel Trainor, Prof. of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour at McMaster University, 2006.

Beyond these cognitive benefits, students say music education has intrinsic value and builds motivation, confidence and a sense of well-being:

  • Music helps to enhance creativity, promote social development, adjust personality, and self worth. Through participation in school music programs, students gain a sense of discipline, self-esteem, and pride of accomplishment, and they learn to excel in teamwork, problem solving, leadership, and creative thinking. (Jasmine, 14, Alabama)
  • ….music accomplishes everything schools try to do: prepare students to face tomorrow’s challenges. Students learn responsibility, accountability, leadership skills, social skills, and diversity in music organizations. Music also provides an outlet for students to learn how to better themselves in every aspect of their lives. (Christa, 17, Alabama)
  • Sometimes music does what others cannot see. There are days when the academic stress of a school day can make you feel terrible. An hour of focusing on music can be like cool water in the desert. It leaves you refreshed and ready to focus on the schoolwork ahead, which improves grades. (Jessica, 13, Kentucky)

Are You Ready to Let Student Voices Be Heard As You Advocate for Music Education in Your Community?

Put the students in your community – and even these essays -- to work to help strengthen music programs for students in your district:

      1. Send local student letters OR these essays to your school board members/other elected officials.
      2. Encourage a student leader to write a Letter to the Editor of your local newspaper about why music education must be part of a well-rounded curriculum in your district.
      3. Post a link to on your website & social media (ie, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to build awareness of music education’s impact on students.
      4. Encourage students in your district to attend a school board meeting to speak about how music education makes a difference in their lives.
      5. Use the resources on this website to build a strong music education coalition in your school district; put the tools in the SupportMusic Community Action Kit to work today!

Read School Band and Orchestra’s winning student essays – and get information about the 2011 essay contest (beginning September 1, 2010) – at

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