Blog: Why bother with Music in School?

Music may not give you the qualifications to become a doctor, scientist, or lawyer, but it equips you with the mental agility to succeed in all specialisms.

(Source: Courtesy of British International School Bratislava)

As a classroom music teacher of many years, the most common, yet surprising question I am asked is - what do I actually do.

The conversation normally goes along the lines of... ‘So what do you do?‘ After proudly stating my occupation, the reaction is ‘...Oh, that’s nice...‘ followed by ‚‘...what instrument do you teach?‘ - This is where the confusion begins.

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The truth is, classroom music is not simply about learning to play a musical instrument. Apart from many schools having teams of highly skilled instrumental teachers to do this job, most classroom music teachers don‘t have the time, nor the inclination, to learn how to proficiently play every musical instrument that a young person develops an interest in.

However, this is not only what classroom music is about. Instead, it seeks to develop musical skills and understanding across three essential aspects of music – Composition, Performance, and Listening. Not only are these areas of music intrinsically linked to one another (listening can’t happen if no one performs, and if no one composes, there‘s nothing to perform!), the skills needed to understand them are so in tune with the way we think and behave as human beings that our personal and academic development could depend on it.

This statement may seem far fetched, but if we consider the thought processes a young person goes through in their study of music, it becomes clear what personal, interpersonal, and academic skills are being developed, and why music is so important in our schools.

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To illustrate this point, let’s take a typical project found in our Year 7 music classroom at the British International School Bratislava - the study of Blues and Jazz. The project typically begins with the listening of early Blues music to identify it‘s mood, instruments, and background - developing student‘s skills in identifying musical features and instruments, but also reaffirming concepts learnt in English, History, and Geography, through the research and discussion of the migration of people throughout time.

From this point, students participate in a range of practical activities involving playing, improvising, and creating new music using rhythmic and melodic phrases within complex harmonic and rhythmic structures. To do this successfully, students use sound-processing skills with similar conceptual understandings found in Science and Mathematics, whilst finely tuning skills of teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, creativity, and time management. They then explain and communicate their thought processes and understanding through live performance – developing fine motor skills, self-confidence, and resulting in a sense of achievement.

Although we can see a broad range of skills being developed here, it can easily be overlooked as ‘just playing music‘ or perhaps ‘training for serious musicians,‘ but besides music students being potential entertainers of the future, there is a far more important argument of the affect these skills have on the development of young people who don’t choose a musical career.

It is typical for young people to be encouraged to study music, but only until the serious decisions of further education and careers arise. Music may not give you the qualifications to become a doctor, scientist, or lawyer, but it equips you with the mental agility to succeed in all specialisms, and within the ever changing workplace of the 21st Century, this is increasingly recognised by universities and employers all over the world.

Yet, music is more than this. Music is a lifelong passion; it is our safe haven of personal reflection – whether we choose to play, compose, or simply listen. Music is scientific, it‘s mathematical, it‘s historical, geographical, and although the English language sometimes struggles to describe it, the study of music is known to develop our literacy, verbal memory, and intelligence.

Music requires concentration, dedication, and resilience. It demands coordination, spatial awareness, and a strong connection to our feelings and emotions. The act of doing music boosts our sense of achievement and confidence, and our ability to work with other people both as leaders, and as followers.

Music is a Universal language that helps us understand the extraordinary variety of cultures throughout the world, and a glimpse into how we all view our existence. Music is Art, it opens our eyes to the world and teaches us to be human – and isn’t this what we want for our children?

Nick McGauley is Head of Visual and Performing Arts at The British International School, Bratislava

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