Monday, February 9, 2009

Why Music is Important

I started thinking about art and music and science and math and literature as disciplines. These subjects are so intertwined you cannot separate them except arbitrarily. For instance, do you know how much math is involved with music? You can actually teach fractions by teaching music theory. Whole notes, quarter notes, half notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes. Then there is rhythm. Four-four time is four beats per measure with the quarter note acting as the base, one. Then there is the waltz which is three-three time. An octave is eight notes, and within an octave there are thirds, fourths, fifths, etc. Each octave is named for the beginning and ending key (i.e. the key of C, D, E, F, G, A, B). The distance between C and G is a fifth. The distance between C and F is a fourth. And so forth. I could go on, but it gets complicated after that.

Think of the other ways in which we use music to teach things. Every preschool across America knows the "Clean Up" song and "This is the Way we Wash our Hands" song. And by the way, how did you learn your ABC's? There is a song for learning the days of the week, the months of the year, multiplication tables, and even states and capitals. In language therapy with young children, we use songs to open and close the day, for sensory integration, and to teach rote skills and routines.

Science and music are also intricately related on a most basic level. Sound waves, resonance, and frequency can all be related to music because we call these things musical properties, even though they are also scientific properties. Anyone who has ever taken a physical science course remembers the tuning fork exercise when learning about waves and frequencies. When I arrived in my speech science class in graduate school, I began learning in depth about the science of sound. Every phoneme has a distinct and specific frequency and duration that can be physically measured by its sound wave. Technically, if you're good (I was only marginal) you can spell out entire words just by looking at the frequency analysis of each sound. For my speech science final I think I had to label four or five words by looking at their graphs. I could get technical, but I might lose my audience.

Music as a discipline is also multi-faceted. First there is the actual discipline it takes to learn to read music. Then there are the physical and mental challenges of learning to play an instrument. Toss in group dynamics? Singing in a choir requires discipline. You have to follow the director. You have to sing on pitch. Everyone has to sing and sing correctly, or it doesn't work. Same with the orchestra, band, quartet, etc.

From a creativity standpoint, music is one of the most basic art forms in the world. It is a form of discipline and a form of entertainment all at the same time. In the year 2009 we have ring tones for our phones, iTunes is one of the most popular sites ever on the Internet, even our President has an iPod. We use music to sell products on tv and the radio. Here is where I enter my passionate plea since I've stated my rational and dispassionate arguments already. Nothing makes me happier than making music. I make music all day long. Sometimes it's just toe tapping. Sometimes it's humming. Sometimes it's singing. I make up silly songs and silly dances. Some kids just get music. It gets them in ways we don't even understand. If we're going to spend millions of dollars on sports and special education programs and after care programs and pilot learning programs, why can't we spend a little money on a tried and true method of reaching children? Music works.

So now I humbly ask you, education administrators, why exactly is it when we talk about budget cuts the first thing we toss out is art and music? If the above revelations aren't enough for you, here are a few more. What about learning critical thinking skills? What about discovering creativity? I am here to tell you rote memorizing of factual information is not education. Learning what a fraction is, is pointless if it cannot be related to everyday life. Learning to read music is an application of mathematical concepts from the understanding of linear progression to simple fractions and number order. Studying music as an art form is a window into history. Is the national anthem not an important song? Doesn't ever state in our union have a "state song"? Did you know that the book of Psalms in the Bible is a book of songs? What about Song of Solomon? It's also a book in the Old Testament. And if none of these arguments do it for you, here is one more. How do they teach newest members of the armed forces to march? The drill Sergeant teaches them to march in step to a cadence. "I don't know what I've been told...but the art of music is solid gold."

Tune in next week for my arguments for saving art....

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