Should Music Be Taught In Schools?

October 21, 2018 — 59 Comments

I read an article in The Guardian about music disappearing from the English school curriculum as research has shown the number of schools offering the subject at A-level (Advanced Level) is in sharp decline, and fewer students are taking Music at thirteen to sixteen years of age which I believe is down to the new English baccalaureate putting more emphasis on STEM subjects (Science, Technology and Maths) and a humanities plus a foreign language.

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How long could it be before Geography or History and other humanities are considered subjects people can ‘study outside of school hours’ and they get dropped, and why not? You can read these books alone outside of school! The majority of 16-year-olds are now expected to stay in compulsory 16-18 education but the options for what you can study is becoming restricted to what ‘The Government’ want to pay for.  I’d love to read your opinion even if it differs from mine.

Violin and piano

With music, you need help to read the musical language and set you off on how to play musical instruments. Music technology has also declined by more than 32% in the last two years.  The problem with only offering music ‘out of school hours’ is the cost for parents and I suspect that if checked the schools that don’t offer a full music provision are those in most deprived areas.  In 2012, when I left school, music was a compulsory subject for 11-13 year-olds (up to Year 8), this survey says it is only compulsory in 47.5% of schools now.  Music department staffing has fallen by 36% which is a concern for music graduates as a whole employment route is being closed down.  Humans don’t just make music for work and career purposes, for many it is their enjoyment, their hobby, a way of socialising and meeting likeminded groups of people.

Classic music Sax tenor saxophone violin and clarinet vintage

At my primary school basic singing took place in groups but if you wanted to play an instrument you had to pay extra for a half-hour lesson during breaks or after school.  At High School musical instrument tuition and solo singing were outside of the music lessons, I have been truly blessed that my parents paid for these classes but they were supplemented with free GCSE’s (General Certificates in Education) in contemporary dance, drama, and music and I doubt you could fund sufficient lessons privately that would be required without any performing arts in the curriculum and you would be missing out as a student in key skills.

I was the only student taking Music A (Advanced) level at my 6th Form college 16-18 so I took the lessons in a BTEC music group (which is mainly performance based without the music literacy) which restricted the academic rigour of the Advanced Level course and once again my parents stepped in to pay for several private lessons to fill the gaps I discovered I had after my first year of study, this is not to take anything away from my music teachers they were both wonderful, however, they didn’t have the time or funds to help any more than they did.  I would not like to have started at a music conservatoire without the full music theory grounding, in fact I’m not sure I would have got in.

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Perhaps we in England may need to stop school 6th forms if they can’t offer a full enriching curriculum. Then channel all 16-year-olds into County colleges to consolidate several schools A level cohort (16-18-year-old) giving more student numbers per course?  What do you think?

We now have the UK Government deciding what English pupils learn, I wonder how many of them have Music degrees? Perhaps this is a new job prospect for music graduates   – enter politics in order to ensure creatives are represented in the seat of power.

I would add that both of my brothers are in professions considered ‘academic’ STEM-related study areas now, yet both were allowed to study the performing arts, Drama and Dance and both took singing lessons and this has enriched their characters, enabled them to enjoy working in teams, and given them the ability to make presentations to big groups of people without too much fear.  Both of them still ballroom dance and most of all it taught them persistence, dedication, and not to give up on hard to learn skills.  The arts can also provide a relief from stress and is good for their mental health and well being that they can find escapes in art and creative pursuits.

Music Teachers, Chalkboard, Apple

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Me with my singing Teacher, Rosa Mannion

During my studies and training, I have found the help of my music teachers and mentors invaluable, they have each guided my development and progression to date and helped me achieve goals that would have been unattainable without them. I am currently studying with Rosa Mannion who is both an inspiration and encouraging taskmaster.  We are currently studying together the importance of the soft palette in vocal technique and I’m excited to hear more about her research and put into practice the recommendations.

59 responses to Should Music Be Taught In Schools?

  1. 

    Long ago, music was compulsory at my Grammar school only up to the Second Year. I dropped it because I was no good at it. But it should be an available subject for those who want it and who have the ability. The problem is that Margaret Thatcher got too many in this country thinking that the making of money was the only purpose to anything, and that which didn’t was worthless. Your generation and after will pay for that for a long time yet.

    • 

      There were lots of experiments going on at my High School from Year 7 to Year 11 (Year 7 is the first year of High School), in Year 9 they set up internal academies so that you could choose your ongoing general training before you selected which nine GCSE subjects you would go on to take exams in, age 16, (5 of the 9 were compulsory core topics – English, Maths, Science x 2, General studies which incorporated Citizenship), some students were allowed to take 11 instead of 9 subjects and I included a City and Guilds level 2 Information Technology and the other I chose a BTEC level 2 in Music Theatre, (my brother Matt did an Advanced Level Maths core unit and Mandarin!)

      I selected the Performing Arts Academy (PAA) which was Drama, Dance and Music and the Arts Academy which was Art History, Textiles, Graphics, Woodwork and Painting, along with Maths with Statistics, English Literature and English Language, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. I wanted to continue with a foreign language but that was just continued as a bolt on one hour per week unless you took the foreign language academy which clashed with the PAA. The following year they made changes so that people could continue to study a foreign language in a mixed arts academy after my protestations. I continued studying German but in my own time. I was very academically capable, and my Head Master was a bit concerned that I was concentrating too much on the arts rather than keeping my humanities option open, but I convinced him to let me continue and had an absolute marvelous time at school and put a lot of academic rigour in my arts subject that impressed him. Absolutely marvelous man who sadly passed away just before he could enjoy his well-earned retirement.

      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

  2. 

    We have many school districts, here in the States, where music and other artistic subjects are among the first to be cut when they are trying to save money. It’s a shame, as balancing the right and left brain, will allow us to help our young people develop more properly. More importantly, every child should have the right to pursue their passions, which may include music.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:06 pm

      I remember my brother who is a natural mathematician taking Dance as a GCSE and extra Advanced level option in addition to Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry and Physics to give him a break and some enjoyment away from academic learning, he was taught Labanotation (a notation system for recording and analysing human movement) which is notoriously tricky and lots of dance colleges no longer teach it but he found it as easy as writing English, I think it was the patterns he likes. He used to choreograph his ballroom and Latin dancing teams in University and used these skills to make that easy for himself to remember the routines, nothing went to waste.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  3. 

    A lot of people make their living as musicians and training should start in the schools. I took music classes in elementary school and its a part of a well rounded education. Too bad there are a lot of places where funding impacts all the arts education.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:07 pm

      My Mum was so determined that we would have classes in the arts that she worked full time to achieve it, she would have been a great Artist had she ever had the training but there was no money for creative pursuits. She told me when she read this that it is just going back to how it was when she was at school where the poorer families just did the general education unless someone in their family could teach them for free.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  4. 

    When I was a child, music and art were part of the standard curriculum up through 8th Grade. We do very much need STEM, but I see music and the arts as very necessary, too.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:07 pm

      I love STEM subjects especially Maths, Statistics, Biology, Chemistry and not so much Physics but I studied it. I wouldn’t have enjoyed under-utilising the other side of my brain with creative tasks, in fact my Math’s teacher Mr English was so intrigued with how I solved certain Maths puzzles he had me design visual posters for his Maths room so that visual learners like me could understand quickly and easily and in Math competitions I always got the questions right the others in the team didn’t see.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  5. 

    Very happy to read you – You are 100% right – I see in France, the more music lessons disappeared from schools, the more we trained specialists, the lower the cultural and intellectual level – A real shame! While the real solution is to make bridges between subjects – Music and spelling, music and math, music and science, music and drawing, drawing and history, drawings and science, drawing and mathematics, etc. …. A study just out, music helps development of intelligence …. But unfortunately, those who do the school programs do not want to improve the cultural level of society, they just want to create workers / consumers.

    Best thoughts for you and congratulations for this brilliant blog !!

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:08 pm

      Absolutely agree about bridging subjects Pascal and just to add within Music you can add foreign languages, history and as you say spelling and poetry. The music fraternity need to get involved with the Education Ministry to protect their subject for future generations they must have so many more examples, I’m sure they do but they seem to be losing the battle at the moment if the story in the Guardian is nationwide.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      • 

        The fight should be led by the music schools themselves at the world level – let me explain: there are student exchange programs, there are the european grants for culture and arts – It will be necessary that the young professional graduate like you can do like a “musical service” of 1 year, paid in a school, a college, a high school, to help the teachers to set up the link of music and other matter and at the same time working the language of the country! And it’s run by the big music schools, because people in general education do not know how to do that.

  6. 

    I can see the system turning out a set of maths/science geeks whos learning goes out of the window in a few years as advancements occur. It is erroneously thought that these things enhance career prospects. They may, short-term, but as for producing well-rounded articulate and cultured human beings they fall far short. Language, music and art are essential towards that end, And then, of course, those whose forte is in those fields need to be fostered and encouraged.
    More and more the bumblingly interfering bureaucracy manages to make a muckup.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:08 pm

      My brothers are perfect examples of how a well-rounded education shapes a different sort of team member for a business. My eldest brother got an excellent actuarial job straight out of University even though he took Media Studies, Drama and Dance at 16 years of age and went for four interviews a year later and got offered all four jobs, he would tell you most interviewers are intrigued with his cv and dancing background and always want to know more about that. My youngest brother went for one high position banking graduate job and got it to start straight out of University, he studied Dance and Graphic design to 16, he uses his Graphics skills in so many presentations and throughout his degree, vive la difference.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      • 

        Just goes to show; anyone who has lacked the opportunity to express him or herself in some way connected with music is not truly rounded. Tone-deaf artists use sight instead of sound as their ‘music’.

  7. 

    I am for varieties and choices even choices of languages. I hope it give young children to discover what these are like.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:08 pm

      We were syphoned into two languages streams at 11 years of age either French or German, this was the first time we studied any foreign language, you could add one more in Year 9 at 13 years of age but often then it is quite late to really take it on to study properly at an Advanced level.
      As an adult I have been delighted to advance my German, add the learning of French from my second year at University, then Italian and even sing in Norwegian, Czech and Russian although I’m not conversational in those.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  8. 

    I agree that schools should offer music education if at all possible in their budgets. The town I am from, Londonderry, NH, USA, has a fantastic music program where children learn musical instruments from the fourth grade up and are able to sing in the chorus. My three grandsons have excelled in this fabulous program and all play several instruments, sing and act. I think it is a wonderful opportunity for the children.
    The Londonderry Band has played all over the world and is going to Japan next year. They have played at the Inauguration of President Obama too, They have one of the largest bands around and are famous for the talent that comes out of Londonderry School District. I am so proud of Londonderry for being so dedicated to their students.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      Is fourth grade from the age of 8? If so that’s wonderful Janice and I’m happy to read about all three grandsons I knew one of them did the performing arts. I don’t think there are any bands where I grew up but I know this is often an entry into Music for people elsewhere in England I think in Lancashire and Yorkshire there is a strong tradition and some of the mining communities.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  9. 

    I love your proposal that music graduates should enter politics. That certainly would alter the tone of debate.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      There is a fabulous Mezzo soprano I follow who is very political her career is too busy to side move into politics full-time, but it is a shame that more passionate people from the arts aren’t represented in the law making chamber.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  10. 

    Oklahoma has been in a severe budget crisis for almost a decade placing the public school system in peril. Many schools are only holding classes four days a week. Teacher pay reached new lows along with elimination of music and art programs. Music and arts are essential to a successful public education.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:13 pm

      Wow, well if the school week is only four days instead of five then I guess you really do have to prioritise subjects but I do wonder how the school/exam boards do this and if the one size fits all model really helps a) budgets and b) the workers of the future.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  11. 

    Dear Charlotte,
    I agree that music should be taught in schools, for where would we be without music? May the Lord bless you richly my Beloved.

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:13 pm

      I was surprised it was still seen as a core subject for the first two years of High School at least and as Pascal said above it could be put in context with other subjects and the history of music, learning music in foreign language class, learning the poetry of music in English class couldn’t be explored more with specialist music teachers being used in a different way if we can’t just have it in the core so that specialisation in music is still a big option at Year 9 for those that want to advance their knowledge.

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  12. 

    There is work showing that the study of music (how to listen, appreciate a little, understand its place/use in its period of history/geography) is very useful in the development of the brain particularly the study of maths. Also, along with a study of art, drama and movement music is all part of developing a broader personality and understanding of society and your place in it as it is now. All highly essential for the geek as much as the arty. I get really heated about the removal of half our lives from the syllabus enabled by the state – training put forward to enable us to be more useful and healthy within that state. Who in their right mind chops off a limb or two in order to get a better worker? As you can gather I’m with you all the way 🙂

    • 
      Charlotte Hoather October 24, 2018 at 8:13 pm

      I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the replies, it has really made me think and I will spend more time than normal to answer everyone to really get my thoughts on this centred. My Mum suggested I forward the blog post on to the English Education Minister afterwards with a precis of points. Would they even take the time to read or just bin it though without anyone of high position ranking behind it?

      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  13. 

    You hit the nail on the head. Music also nurtures many transferable skills, eg attention to detail, creativity, and much, much more.

    • 

      Absolutely correct. I’m sometimes told I’m a bit too businesslike for the arts but I’ve been in a workplace crèche from being a baby and always listened to my parents discuss business issues over the dinner table or in the car 😀. My parents think I’m a bit arty farty in the business environment hehe 😄 but what is true is my music education has given me the confidence and pure joy to enjoy anything I turn my mind to.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte 🙋🏼

  14. 

    My short answer Charlotte is that it is a disaster. I’ll try to come back when I’ve more time as I have much to say, though I’m not as you know a music professional. All I’ll say for the mo’ is that I feel really sorry for those children whose parents (or, as in my case, grandparents) cannot fill the gap either through lack of interest or finance.

    • 

      Look forward to you coming back Roger. I feel sorry for those people too. My Mum and Dad were those children and have only really got an appreciation of music and dance because of their children getting involved in the arts.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  15. 

    I agree Charlotte, music should be taught in School.
    It would be such a shame if not, unfortunately not all parents could afford to pay for lessons, whether it be singing or musical instruments.
    So lots of children would miss out,especially if they are gifted..

    • 

      Schools can decide to teach you French or German, there must be a way to identify a second preference choice for an arts subject although I’d have wanted to do both, better one than none.
      I just wonder if everyone does STEM will there be enough jobs in that or will those jobs just get saturated too? Making lots of round pegs, in grey uniforms and flat shoes and a calculator watch 😄. Then there’d be me 👩🏻‍🎤 hehe.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  16. 

    Music study during class time was the norm at my state school when I was growing up. That this is no longer the case and that such study is only available to those who pay for it is a great loss to education.
    I may not be a musician now, but in those classes I learned to appreciate it. It was part of a well-rounded education.

    • 

      Thank you Jonathan, it’s quite sad that budgets are getting too thin to stretch and other new technology classes etc will come at the expense of traditional creative subjects.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  17. 

    The arts are rapidly losing out to the STEM subjects everywhere and frankly i don’t know why this has come about recently. Perhaps it is the speed that technology has advanced that each part of the world wants to try and keep with up?

    • 

      I think you’re right GP. Time has to be found now to study computer programming and other new technologies and it seems to be coming in at the expense of traditional arts subjects.

      I had a visit with my Aunty Val at the weekend and her hobby is our family tree and other ancestry pursuits, absolutely fascinating, I discovered my great Grandfather signed up for the American Army based at Knox that is now Fort Knox. We have other military hero’s in the family I didn’t know about there is one mission that is still redacted even after all this time. I thought GP would love these old stories and photos.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

  18. 

    Charlotte, you were indeed fortunate with your music training and we are the recipients of the result of all your hard work and your wonderful teacher! I tutor at a middle school (ages 11-13) and was delighted when I first went there to find band very popular. Many of my students play an instrument – but I think Chapel Hill, being a more upscale community, encourages music. I’ll have to check around to see what the schools in the rural areas offer. My family is not musical – my husband and I raised two jocks – but we love music and my brother sings in a symphony chorale. He and I used to sing together when we wer young!

    • 

      There weren’t lots of musical instrument players at my school, enough though to put a small orchestra together to accompany the musical theatre productions. There were several all boy rock type bands and self taught guitarists. When I first went to a Conservatoire it was brilliant learning about all the variety of instruments one could play I just didn’t realise.

      I was quite sporty too it was hard to give up netball and hockey because of clashes and insuffient time for practice, but I kept up swim team meets until I was 18. My Mum used to say Jack of all Trades = Master of None but I think the level of fitness from swimming helped my lung capacity and breathing and dance movement, timing, musicality, etc.

      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

  19. 

    I agree with you. People are abandoning the idea that anything creative is worth paying for, and I think it’s so sad. Creativity opens areas of the brain that STEM studies doesn’t. You’re not much older than my sons, and I think what the older generations have done to your generation is very sad. I don’t comment often, but I do read your posts, and I’m fascinated by everything you’ve said about the musical process. Keep it up!

    • 

      Thanks Alisa, lovely to hear from you, if I remember didn’t you homeschool for a while? If so how did you incorporate say music as perhaps those resources could be used by more pupils who are excluded from formal music lessons in schools now.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

      • 

        I did homeschool both of my boys, Charlotte. They are in college now. Both learned guitar through a dvd program while in high school and have self taught themselves more with the older one writing and composing his own songs. The older one is also self-taught on the cojon which is a type of drum. A music teacher here said he had the best rhythm he had ever heard. I believe the flexibility of homeschooling helped them with their musical studies.

      • 
        Charlotte Hoather October 26, 2018 at 9:05 pm

        I thought so, that’s amazing, It takes a lot of practice and dedication to self-learn an instrument, I must explore more home school educational music dvds and check out what they provide for singers.

  20. 
    Peter Alexander October 22, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    This is terrific, Charlotte. You didn’t go into this, but there is all kinds of research showing how teaching music helps brain development and general academic and intellectual achievement across the board. Here is a link to use one of many articles about research into the value of music education. And in the meantime, I hope you and your followers will continue to speak out and make themselves heard at the local level all around the world. That’s where the change has to happen.
    https://news.ku.edu/2014/01/14/ku-research-establishes-link-between-music-education-and-academic-achievement?fbclid=IwAR35U2iOF2MU2JSnbs_uJmhH7EqgXDVUFPnYR2AfAe6c8oxg3VTPNSt883o

    • 

      Thank you for your links Peter I will definitely check them out, this week I’m hectic with auditions and new repertoire and my time has just disappeared. I’ll come over to check out what you’re up to soon.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte 🙋🏼

  21. 

    I teach music in the early learning sector but am disheartened to notice that music is not encouraged once they enter primary school. Unforutnately it is not only in the UK but in Australia as well

    • 

      So sad, I remember circle singing in tumble tots and musical sticks and singing in nursery now and I can only have been 5. Then again there are photos and videos to remind me and I started Saturday clubs when I was 6 because my Mum didn’t like us watching tv all morning while she was doing housework and shopping 🛒 on Saturday mornings. At school I used to help out the other children a lot in music class so if it’s cut they’d be completely cut off and that’s just so bad.
      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

  22. 

    A complex topic, much of it highly subjective. A few thoughts; (1) STEM courses ARE creative, just not along the same axes as artistic subjects. (2) In the US, at least, artistic talent does not necessarily equate to a career. Artistic fields are extremely over-crowded, particularly music, fiction, and, in my area (L.A.), acting. Almost every artist here has a day job. Only ~ one writer in 100 makes a living writing. (3) Relying on the government is foolhardy. (4) You are a treasure, and I’m glad you’ve been so fortunate.

    My sister studied piano, violin, ballet, acting, and art (4-year BFA degree). Ultimately, I found her a scientific illustrator position at a university, where she also sang in the faculty-staff choir until retirement.

    I went into engineering. If I hadn’t, I would not have worked on the Saturn S-IVB and other interesting things. I would also not have been able to retire and do what I love: writing plays and novels, designing my book covers, acting, and writing lyrics.

    My conclusion: Plan A: Find what you love to do and do it, then get someone to pay you to do it. But Plan A will work for only a few, so have a Plan B: Learn skills that create wealth in a field that offers steady employment. For many, that’s STEM studies, a craft, or industry coop internships.

    Should music be taught in schools? Yes, but not necessarily at a professional level at every school. Creating many more musicians than demand will support is a waste of resources* and a recipe for failure. Creating more audience, however, would be good and need not be terribly expensive.

    * One might quibble about whether the government is wasting resources elsewhere, tilting at windmills, resources that might be better used for arts programs. But that’s another topic.

    • 

      I have read and re-read your thoughtful comment. I do understand and it’s very difficult to be in a group of surfeit musicians in an overcrowded market who do struggle to make a regular income from their skills, so many musicians have to take regular jobs to pay the bills then have no time to practice and pursue their dreams.

      My parents are realists and I worked from the age of 13 from being the cleaner, to dogsbody to administrator and finally telephone and field sales in school and Uni holidays, I’m sure it was my Mums back up plan 😀.

      I just need a lucky break or two because it’s hard if you’re not signed by an agent immediately or on a young artist program that carries a salary and you’re on your own but I’m going to try to make a good go of it, my competition win gave me a few months breathing space to continue with my learning.

      All my best wishes
      Charlotte

  23. 

    super insightful and great read. if you have get a chance I would really appreciate it if you could check out my blog! it’d mean a lot!

  24. 

    Einstein played the violin… Music, and Art in general has so much to teach everyone. Can’t say much about British schools, but I hate how over my lifetime the arts have been slowly and methodically cut from the schools and from people’s lives. Yet all research proves how much arts, and particularly music, helps children learn all subjects – it is a meta subject that develops the brain. OK, rant over 😉

  25. 

    Fabulous post, Charlotte. I agree, music and other creatives should be taught in school. You are right, more and more of the arts are being replaced by the sciences. The government will turn us all into their robots, if they could.
    Anyway, you bring up great points in this article. Thank you -Resa

  26. 

    This is an amazing post. I remember taking music class in my high school and I loved it. It is hard to deal with budget cuts in schools, but what they need to realize is that that creative freedom for individuals to express themselves should be offered also. Just because it is not in the general studies, doesn’t mean students don’t want to learn how to read or develop music. Like you said in the beginning, that they gain the knowledge to read music and even those who want to pursue a career in it, has to go outside of school and pay for the lessons. It should be offered for those who are interested. The school should care about have the offerings for students to express themselves and not just be a robot for the rest of their life and have a little fun while learning.

  27. 

    As a soldier’s daughter, I attended a variety of boarding schools and music was at the heart of the curriculum in the best ones. You are right in all you suggest. It is so short-sighted to cut music out of the curriculum as the discipline and the different parts of the brain it employs enhance academic work and teach application and concentration… and it gives children pleasure.

  28. 

    The greatness of the art of music goes beyond leisure and is capable of deeply educating and positively transforming individuals and societies. Access to the study of music should be available to all those who want to approach this wonderful art. I believe that in schools it is very important to develop discipline, concentration, ….. Studying music is a privilege. I really liked the Blog, Congratulations.

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