Why Study Music?

Why Study Music?

by Dr. Don Bowyer

September 13, 1996, was the day I realized that music is probably the only subject that middle school students believe they know more about than their teachers. Middle school students might hate their math, science, or history classes, and they may think the teachers are complete idiots, but they don't believe they know more about math, science, or history than the teacher does. In music class, the educational world seems upside down to them.

I was teaching music at a K-12 private school in the U.S. Virgin Islands the day my students first realized that I was a musical fraud. They rushed into my class and screamed, "They shot Tupac!" I should have known better than to ask "Tupac who?" Of course, things got even worse a couple of days later when they told me Tupac Shakur was really still alive, hiding out somewhere in South America. I couldn't help asking if he and Elvis had started a band.

Why do we study music in schools? Isn't it enough to know what you like? Why is it important to know anything about Bach, Beethoven, or Dizzy Gillespie? Who cares what a fugue is? They never play a fugue on my radio station, do they? And why can't they make up their minds about who wrote which symphony? If Haydn wrote more than a hundred of them and Mozart wrote more than forty, how did Beethoven write the Ninth Symphony after they were both dead? Why teach someone to be a musician? If someone wants to be a musician, all he or she really needs to do is learn a couple of chords and swear a lot. Good looks and a choreographer wouldn't hurt, but music schools don't teach those things.

Speaking of music schools, why would anyone choose music as a college major? Hardly anyone makes a living playing piano or trumpet anymore. What else can you do with a music degree, other than teach?

The answer to that final question is probably the easiest to provide. There are only a few professions that require specific undergraduate degrees. A few that come to mind are nursing, public school teaching, and engineering. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these make up only about 6% of the total employees in this country (6.35% in the Huntsville area). Most other professions require an undergraduate degree, but not a specific one. UAH music graduates are currently pursuing careers as musicians, teachers, music therapists, software engineers, recording engineers, lawyers, bankers, etc.

The NAMM Foundation of the National Association of Music Merchants offers a webpage with interesting facts based on music research. Here are some relevant excerpts from that page:

  • A 2000 Georgia Tech study indicates that a student who participates in at least one college elective music course is 4.5 times more likely to stay in college than the general student population.
    – Dr. Denise C. Gardner, Effects of Music Courses on Retention, Georgia Tech, 2000
  • The part of the brain responsible for planning, foresight, and coordination is substantially larger for instrumental musicians than for the general public.
    – "Music On the Mind," Newsweek, July 24, 2000
  • Music majors are the most likely group of college grads to be admitted to medical school. Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. He found that 66 percent of music majors who applied to med school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. For comparison, (44 percent) of biochemistry majors were admitted. Also, a study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math.
    – "The Case for Music in the Schools," Phi Delta Kappan, 1994
    – "The Comparative Academic Abilities of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University," Peter H. Wood, ERIC Document No. ED327480
  • A research team exploring the link between music and intelligence reports that music training – specifically piano instruction – is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children's abstract reasoning skills necessary for learning math and science.
    – Dr. Frances Rauscher and Dr. Gordon Shaw, Neurological Research, University of California at Irvine, February, 1997
  • College students majoring in music achieve scores higher than students of all other majors on college reading exams.
    – Carl Hartman, "Arts May Improve Students' Grades," The Associated Press, October, 1999
  • Music students demonstrate less test anxiety and performance anxiety than students who do not study music.
    – "College-Age Musicians Emotionally Healthier than Non-Musician Counterparts," Houston Chronicle, 1998
  • On the 1999 SAT, music students continued to outperform their non-arts peers, scoring 61 points higher on the verbal portion and 42 points higher on the math portion of the exam.
    – Steven M. Demorest and Steven J. Morrison, "Does Music Make You Smarter?," Music Educators Journal, September, 2000
  • Researchers at the University of Muenster in Germany have discovered that music lessons in childhood actually enlarge parts of the brain. An area used to analyze the pitch of a musical note is enlarged 25% in musicians compared to people who have never played an instrument. The earlier the musicians were when they started musical training, the bigger this area of the brain appears to be.
    – Pantev et al., Nature, April 23, 1998
  • Research shows when a child listens to classical music the right hemisphere of the brain is activated, but when a child studies a musical instrument both left and right hemispheres of the brain "light up." Significantly, the areas that become activated are the same areas that are involved in analytical and mathematical thinking.
    – Dee Dickinson, "Music and the Mind," New Horizons for Learning, 1993
  • The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania School District analyzed its 1997 dropout rate in terms of students' musical experience. Students with no ensemble performance experience had a dropout rate of 7.4 percent. Students with one to two years of ensemble experience had a dropout rate of 1 percent, and those with three or more years of performance experience had a dropout rate of 0.0 percent.
    – Eleanor Chute, "Music and Art Lessons Do More Than Complement Three R's," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 13, 1998

Value of Music

by Dr. Carolyn Sanders

Simply stated, music students as a whole enjoy greater college success. One recent study of 7500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry, and math. And according to an article in the Phi Delta Kappan Journal, 1994, physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants, indicating that music majors were most successful in being admitted to medical school. He found that 66% of music majors who applied to medical school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. By comparison, 44% of biochemistry majors were admitted.

Now that I've caught your attention, let's back up and examine why those who study music at the college level experience such terrific success in both musical and non-musical pursuits.

"Art and nothing but art! It is the great means of making life possible, the great seduction of life, the great stimulant of life." This was a statement made by the great German philosopher of the 1800′s, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche himself was an accomplished pianist and composer. He strongly believed that music and the other arts should occupy a prime space in one's life.

Nietzsche wrote that music was one of the arts which so sharpened our sense of participation in the world that it gave a much greater meaning to life. For him, it was not merely a passing pleasure but one of the things which made living possible. Nietzsche also shared the conviction with many scholars that music could exert powerful effects on human beings, both good and evil. In attributing such significance to music, Nietzsche was closer to the ancient Greeks than to many modern thinkers. Many of the earliest cultures recognized that music should be an important part of every human's education. Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle believed in the ability of music to motivate humans towards excellence in all endeavors. Music competitions were considered to be equally important as compared to athletic competitions, such as the Olympics. In addition, music was one member of an elite group of seven subjects in which all Greeks were to be well educated, known as the trivium and quadrivium.

As Anthony Storr describes in his recent book, Music and the Mind, "Nietzsche's perception of music as so significant that it can make life worth living seems utterly remote from the mundane preoccupations of Western politicians and educators. Of course it is right that they should be concerned with raising standards of literacy, with increasing expertise in both sciences and crafts, with equipping men and women with the skills necessary to earn a living in a world increasingly dominated by technology. But a 'higher standard of living' does not make life itself worth living. The arts can do so; and, amongst the arts, music is profoundly significant..."

Storr continues by saying "Although music is not a belief system, I think that its importance and its appeal also depend upon its being a way of ordering human experience. Music exalts life, enhances life, and gives it meaning. Great music outlives the individual who created it. It is both personal and beyond the personal. For those who love it, it remains as a fixed point of reference in an unpredictable world. Music is a source of reconciliation, exhilaration, and hope which never fails."

Either by itself, or merged with another discipline, the field of music presents many wonderful career possibilities. Jobs are relatively plentiful for those whose interests lie in the area of either public or private education, especially since it is becoming an increasingly common belief that music should be a part of every child's education. Recent research indicates that the study and performance of music can enhance the learning ability of students in dealing with other subjects, and enhance their overall well being. In the state of Georgia, as an example, state law mandates that every newborn be provided with a classical music compact disk, symbolic of the importance of music from the beginning of the life.

Degree programs that combine the study of music with other fields are becoming increasingly popular. Many music-oriented careers are evolving which combine music with other disciplines in the Liberal Arts, business, science, or technology. As an example, the field of music therapy, which utilizes music as medium in a therapeutic setting, such as a hospital or nursing home, is emerging as an increasingly important field whose benefits are well-documented. For those with an interest in technology, students can combine their enthusiasm for music with their desire to delve into computer science or engineering, eventually landing jobs in fast-growing fields such as music software and hardware design.

In conclusion, the performance of music is one of the few educational pursuits that truly combines the physical, emotional, and intellectual dimensions of human beings. One must draw on physical capabilities, much like an athlete. One must possess an acute awareness and understanding of the power of human emotion, much like the psychologist. One must understand the structure and notation of the musical language, much like a mathematician or computer scientist. Few disciplines allow one to integrate so many different aspects of self as music does. And finally, few disciplines provide one with as complete an array of experiences which, as Nietzsche so accurately stated, makes life worth living.

Definition of Liberal Arts

The Bachelor of Arts in Music is a Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences degree, which means that it includes a broad core of education in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

From the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences section of the UAH Catalog:

These programs are designed to contribute to the intellectual development of students and to assist them in preparing for successful careers by emphasizing the development of written and oral communication skills, critical analysis, and problem solving abilities. They also promote an understanding of relationships among people as well as an awareness of the relationship between human beings and elements of the physical and biological world.

The arts and the humanities, encompassing art, history, languages and literatures, music, and philosophy, lead to a cognizance and appreciation of life as humankind has perceived it and as individuals have lived it. This study leads to heightened critical faculty, cultivation of taste, and the ability to be more effective in utilizing language and in appreciating, using, and evaluating values and ideas. The study of the arts and the humanities is essential to a broad and sensitive awareness of humankind as it has been, is, and aspires to be.

Many careers today require a specific technical education, but there are many others that require a less-specialized, broader education that teaches an individual to think, learn, and communicate. Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences graduates have these abilities.

Music Careers

Of course, there are also many music careers that one can pursue with a Bachelor of Arts in Music. Most people believe that there are only two options: performing or teaching. Here is a longer list of options that should be considered:

  • Music Performance (symphony orchestras, operas, jazz, rock, pop, etc.)
  • Music Education (teaching in schools, teaching privately)
  • Music Therapy (using music as an aid to healing)
  • Music Administration (managing symphonies, music societies, rock stars, etc)
  • Composition (classical, rock, country, film music, advertising, etc.)
  • Music Software Development
  • Electronic Musical Instrument Engineering
  • Recording Engineering
  • Record Production
  • Retail Music (selling music, instruments, and accessories)
  • Film Music Orchestration and Editing
  • Music Publishing