Saturday, March 19, 2011

The importance of a Music Education

The economy has been very challenging and in the last couple of years we have seen many budget cuts in government programs, arts organizations, and businesses.  The worst situation has been the cuts to the education system, both secondary and post-secondary.  In the last couple of weeks here in Los Angeles we have faced some real sad news.  Hamilton Music Academy, a High School in the LAUSD dedicated to music education, is scheduled to close its doors.  Hamilton has served the Los Angeles area for many years and to many generations of students who have been trained to move on to professional careers in music.  With this school closing not only will many teachers be unemployed, but also students who want a serious music education will be denied their education. 

This has not stopped there.  Over the last few weeks LAUSD not only served pink slips to the teachers at Hamilton but also to many music programs in the district, including Walter Reed Middle School where the music teacher had created an orchestra for each grade level.  This week many frustrated students even protested against the cutting of their program.  Several schools had students walking out of their classes playing musical instruments in the hopes they will be heard over the cutting of their education.
Yes we do understand that the state has cut educational budgets, however there are other ways to remedy this rather than take away one of the most academic subjects in a student’s education.  Music is not only an art, but also a math and language class.  It builds the skills required to be successful in both of these subjects.

Let’s look at history for a moment.  In the Middle Ages, Music was not considered an art form.  Schools did not teach how to perform or compose for musical instruments, but rather they taught music theory.  It was taught as part of the Mathematics.  They learned the relationship of intervals of notes, the linear movements of notes, pitches, and harmonics among other theory topics.  This was a very integral part of their studies and was considered to be very important.  It was not until the Renaissance that music was finally considered an art form in the education system. 

Nevertheless, in modern days when music is taught in schools they are taught how to read music, which are the basics of music theory.  They are taught interval relationships, harmonies, and musical phrases, among other musical topics.  This goes back to the mathematics portion of music, but also includes musical language and the “art” of creating music.  This follows in line with language arts.  A musical composition when created and performed is no different than reading a novel or writing an essay.
So looking at the big picture, Music is an important academic subject.  It teaches the student the skill required to be successful in math and language arts.  By taking away music, administration is creating more challenges for the Math and English teacher.  If anything, perhaps the Math and English teacher is very thankful of the music teacher for helping build the skills needed for their classes.  If anything music should not be an elective.  It should be a required class at some level for all students from k-12.  For the early development there needs to be general music with singing, movement, recorders, and percussion.  For the later students, they should have at least two years of a chosen musical instrument.  For the High School level, not only should they be allowed to either be in the band/ orchestra or choir with a music theory class, but also a music history class to enhance their education.  Music needs to be a required subject.  If this is done, then by the time students graduate High School they will have a good solid foundation for Math and English and be well prepared for College.  It well also serve as an exciting part of their education because what kid does not like music?

It has already been proven that music is “a window into higher brain function.”  Gordon Shaw, a physicist who taught at Irvine University, did a lot of research in these theories.  He proved that “music enhances spatial- temporal reasoning and learning math, and is of scientific and educational relevance.”  If anyone recalls about ten years or so there was a series of recordings called the Mozart Effect.  These were created from Dr. Shaw’s research.  The concept of listening to Mozart or to classical music from early childhood to the teen years of a child would help develop these functioning skills.  If this research can only be taken seriously over money then the education system would have made better decisions.

Where is the future of children going if they are going to be denied a music education?  What will happen to the future of musical performance if new students are not going to be trained?  Without schools like Hamilton and strong music programs across the board not only will this country lack a music education but future performers for film scores, jazz bands, orchestras, and operas as well as other musical ensembles and bands.  I hope that the “officials” will understand this with reasoning and bring back one of the most important subjects in education.


  1. Good going Dr. Surenyan! We definitely need to have the arts in the schools.

  2. Great work keep it coming, best blog on earth

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