The Role of Music in Education

plato-nicomachus

The value of music within liberal education long was unquestioned. The most revered sources of Western cultural values, beginning with Plato, emphasized the advantages of a theoretical education in music. Yet we tend to view the study of music today in a purely utilitarian way: as the acquisition of a skill useful to the few people destined to become performers, with the rest being simply dabblers pursuing music as an amusement – as an elective.

But the study of music fosters skills required in all academic endeavors and all facets of life: discipline, patience, discernment, flexibility, and creativity. Music aids memory. It crosses disciplines, combining the concrete world of physics with the abstract world of mathematics and time. The child who learns to hear in a discerning way will grasp language more strongly and gain the ability to think in a more nuanced way. Most importantly, music teaches aesthetics, as do all of the arts.

Can basic music training deliver so much? The answer is yes, but needing to state that answer is worrisome since the fruits of musical training never used to be questioned. That we let music education slip away so easily is tragic for those students deprived of its benefits. Fortunately, reinstating music education is not difficult. The resources have never been more accessible.

The study of aesthetics matters. Pursuit of beauty, something we appreciate purely for what it is and not for what it does, is essential to the human condition. And that’s why music and the arts – the discovery of beauty and the gradual refining of an aesthetic sense – are central to a Classical Education.

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