It’s common knowledge that education cuts are constantly being made for the arts subjects, and especially to music education. This year has seen multiple news articles stating how music is being cut from school curricula and facing extinction as a school subject altogether, due to budget cuts and certain ‘core’ subjects being favoured (English, Mathematics, the Sciences, a language, and History or Geography).
These news stories disappoint me because, more often than not, the people that implement these rules have league tables and money in mind, and they certainly don’t have the best interests of the students at heart. If the benefits of music both as a school subject and as an extra-curricular activity were taken seriously, students would almost definitely increase their performance in other subjects. And whilst I can recognise that not everyone enjoys music lessons at school, I am yet to meet a person who doesn’t enjoy music to at least some extent.
Music has always played a very important part in my extra-curricular life. I started to play the cello at the age of 7, have been a member of various orchestras and ensembles through school and university, and I am now managing the London City Orchestra. Music has featured so heavily in my life for so long that I can vouch for its superpowers – it can lift your mood, relax you, improve mental health and has even been shown to increase IQ.
Playing an instrument demonstrates unparalleled brain activity, even in comparison to sports and other art forms. It uses both sides of the brain simultaneously; in fact, neuroscientists have observed that playing an instrument engages almost every area of the brain at once, with particular emphasis on the visual, auditory and motor cortexes. It increases the volume of grey matter in the brain, most notably in the corpus callosum (the bridge between both brain hemispheres). It has been found that musicians can send messages across the two sides more quickly and via more diverse routes, which results in more effective and creative problem-solving skills in both academic and social environments.
In addition to reading the music, putting fingers in the right place on the instrument, breathing in the right place and keeping time, musicians also have to understand and convey the emotion in a piece of music. This skill is linked with higher empathy and higher executive function (the ability to plan and strategize effectively, as well as having great attention to detail), which in turn has been shown to be a predictor of success.
Aside from the correlation between music and success, there is also research backing the connection between music and good mental health. Research has shown that listening to music engages multiple areas of the brain, as the listener decodes the different layers (in a typical pop song think melody, bass line and drum beat) and puts them back together again in the split second before starting to tap their foot or sing along. Simply listening to music that you like releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward centre, and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. This latter point is particularly important considering not only the incredible amount of pressure students are now put under at school, but also how much sick leave is taken in the workplace (25% of absenteeism is due to stress).
I believe music is so powerful that it should be part of everyday life – from school to the workplace. At Farrell Associates, we are lucky – if we feel the need, we can plug in our headphones, and I know that there are times that I am definitely more productive if I do. Rather than cut funds for music in schools, why not invest in using music in business? Maybe when employers start to see the benefits on their workforce, and subsequently their revenue, the cuts will stop and future generations can enjoy the same incredible opportunities I have so fortunately been exposed to.
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Charlotte Robinson, Administrator