Why music matters

Posted on: 18 Jan 2017
Posted by: Matthew Blunt

A recent study claims learning an instrument does not boost a child's academic achievement. Matthew Blunt, Director of Music at St. Catherine’s Preparatory School, argues that music is an aid for other areas of learning and should not be disregarded.

Everybody hates scales. My brother, a trombonist, loathed them, and couldn’t understand why I would run up and down my scales on a daily basis with glee, utilising my musical toolkit to its full potential. He struggled with them because of his dyslexia, and this was frustrating, as he was a natural player, but there were clear obstacles for him in terms of putting the scales in order in his mind. Gradually, through his childhood, his scales became easier, as learning the beauty of music gave a new order to these black clusters of notes that had to be memorised, and shaped them into sounds and colours in his mind’s eye. This order helped him to unravel other areas of his education, namely his spelling and speech. His musical education, however much he despised those scales, helped him to deal better with abstract shapes on a page, something that can take many years for people with dyslexia.

However, not everyone agrees that learning a musical instrument enhances a child’s academic performance. The University of Liverpool have released a study stating that learning a musical instrument does not boost a child’s academic achievement. Preparatory schools are known to champion music as the cross-curricular, creative discipline it is, a golden nugget of learning potential. My view is those in a position to guide educational policy should listen to us, and look deeper into why we spend so much money, time and energy in this area, as both teachers and parents. Primary music, in particular, has suffered huge losses in recent years and it is an area we must continue to fight for with passion and conviction.

I see music as an aid for other areas of learning, and so, very frequently, I have had to write lesson plans describing how many cross-curricular links I am expressing in one lesson. These cross-curricular links spark connections from the creative part of our minds to the academic side, helping to merge the way we solve problems. It not only helps us to become ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers, it shapes who we are.

My own experience was a daily routine of 2 hours committed music learning outside school from the age of 11-this made me grow up fast. I had to manage my schedules, plan my practice effectively, change my style of learning every hour, learn to analyse infinitesimal sounds, add, multiply, sub-divide, and grow as a creative artist all at the same time. Any discipline that asks a child to do that is helping them to learn valuable life skills, and most of these life skills are self-taught, often taking place in a practice room where no one ever sees the cogs turning. The golden opportunity that all teachers look for, child-initiated learning and self-motivated study, happens day in, day out, through music. This is a learning space that parents often don’t interfere in. These hidden benefits are never written about or explicitly shared, and people deciding on where to invest their money often just see a black hole instead of the infinite knowledge behind the event horizon. It is what’s underneath that speaks volumes and helps us in later life, when we have grown past our first primary stumbles through theory classes.

This systemic dilemma often leads me to contemplate the reason I aim to teach and share a love of all music with my pupils. I want them to grow older creating the soundscapes that others can only imagine, to have a quiet place to be contemplative, an angry place to let out frustration, to create something beautiful and see their work appreciated. Adults often turn to music as an outlet for feelings, and a love of music helps them later in life; it gives them a place to go in their mind when ‘adulting’ becomes too much. Music is often overlooked as a tool for self-reflection; as a means to counsel, to remedy and to repair, but it is just as useful a skill as academic accolade. It is the skill of release, and of retreat. It is the skill of finding that happy place in amongst the worries of life. And that skill is what I want to impart to my students, for don’t we all want them to experience the subject that gives you the tools to live happy and fulfilled lives? Music.

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About Matthew Blunt

Matthew Blunt is Director of Music at St. Catherine’s Preparatory School in Bramley.