on Music Education
i) Music is a natural expression through which we become more fully human
Music is embedded in our genes and affords us opportunities to explore the breadth and depth of human experience as a means of becoming who we are meant to be. All known human societies expect their members to be able to engage with music, whether through making, listening, or dancing to it. Our inherent capacity for music is as much part of our common humanity as our capacity for speech. Music enables us to share and understand our own actions, thoughts, and feelings and those of others.
ii) Music education contributes to understanding the self in relation to the world
Every culture has complex musical traditions that have been shared across generations. When we interact musically with each other, we experience a host of benefits for our health, happiness, productivity, creativity, and sociality. Musical experiences shape our self- and group-identities in ways that lead not only to personal growth but can also lead to the transcendence of racial, economic, and class barriers. Music education enables humans to flourish, and through personal and collective experiences to develop social, cultural, ethical, and gendered understandings of themselves and others through the transformation of their own lives and that of their community. By learning about and engaging with music, we become more fully human.
Human development, well-being and health
i) Music education contributes to human development across the lifespan
The power of music manifests itself in different ways throughout the human lifespan. From the earliest stages of life, sound and movement patterns, such as highly musical, infant-directed speech, contribute to emotional, sensorimotor, social, playful, and empathic aspects of caring relationships. By engaging with music, older children improve their cognitive, social, motor, and language skills, and when children learn a musical instrument, they train their general cognitive skills, as well as their ability to self-regulate their actions, thoughts, and feelings. Music plays an important role in enabling adolescents to create a unique self-identity that is different from that of their parents. Music is equally beneficial for adults and seniors, as learning an instrument or singing in a group can give life new meaning and purpose. Music is a powerful driver of brain plasticity, adapting the central nervous system to new challenges. As such, music is important in many therapeutic contexts, including facilitating speech development and supporting focused attention. In adults, making music slows down the physiological aging of our brain.
ii) Music education contributes to well-being and health
Although there are individual differences in response to music, almost every human being can benefit from the positive effects of music on health and quality of life, providing their preferences and agency are respected. Awareness of the multiple ways in which music influences human behavior and well-being continues to grow with numerous studies demonstrating that those who engage in music report high levels of satisfaction and happiness. At the same time, stakeholders are realizing the potential of integrated musical interventions to improve medical and therapeutic treatments in a cost-efficient manner.
The right to participate in cultural life is recognized in a number of international human rights treaties, notably in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is generally agreed to be the foundation of international human rights law, and which has been ratified by 179 countries. § 27 states “...everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts (…).” Because music is a constituent part of culture, the right of everyone to participate in cultural life can be said to include the right of everyone to participate in musical life. Consequently, countries that have formally agreed to the right to participate in cultural life by ratifying a relevant human rights treaty, must not prevent their citizens from freely participating in musical life. Participation in musical life can be said to include listening to, enjoying, making, creating, teaching, performing, circulating and learning about music; thus the right of everyone to participate in musical life includes the right to participate in a music education.
In signing to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a government has not thereby committed itself to providing any aspect of cultural life, including music education; however, within the legal constraints on its own prerogatives, a government could ensure a music education for all by including provision in its cultural, educational, family, communal or urban policies, school curricula, acts of parliament or, most powerfully, constitution.
Diversity and intercultural understanding
i) Music education should reflect diverse musical traditions and genres
There are as many ways of giving meaning to “humanly organized sound” as there are communities in the world, both past and present. Each inspires people to share their music accordingly: formally or informally; through master-apprentice relationships or institutional structures; with or without notation; with focus on either short-term or long-term outcomes; standalone or integrated with other artistic, community and spiritual practices. However, this rich diversity is poorly reflected in much music education across the world, as issues of power have led a small number of musical expressions and approaches to learning and teaching to dominate. This presents a limited and biased picture of the world’s musical diversity, denying learners the joy and understanding that comes with exploring the many ways in which humans connect with and through music, across eras and cultures. A more transcultural approach to music education is needed to redress the balance. This includes recognizing indigenous and other under-represented voices, and incorporating different ways of music learning and teaching more equitably.
ii) Music education should contribute to social and intercultural understanding
Learning music with others is a unique form of non-verbal, embodied interaction and communication. It is a focused way of working together towards a common goal and learning from each other. At its best, it organically stimulates consideration of and interaction with the ‘other.’ At its worst, it leads to deepening stereotypes, alienation, and prejudices.
While it is naïve to assume that learning about different musics automatically leads to world peace, well-designed music education can build bridges and serve as a pathway for cross-cultural understanding and respect. Introducing and celebrating different musical cultures engages learners in practices outside their musical comfort zones and widens their horizons. It can also demonstrate similarities and connections. Even if at times it is confrontational and creates cognitive dissonance, encountering the unfamiliar can support greater intercultural understanding and cohesion in diverse communities.
There is a need to diversify and decolonize music education by thorough redesigns of both content and pedagogy. Although many methods of music education increasingly include culturally diverse content, this is still far from sufficient. And because there is a deep and subtle relationship between music and how it is transmitted, we must expand our pedagogies beyond the predominant practices, particularly those based in Western music cultures. Diversified content and pedagogies can strengthen one’s sense of place in the world and develop openness to other groups and cultures. Each locality can enact these changes based on their unique context. Examples might include hosting guest teaching artists from diverse cultural traditions, engaging with Indigenous practitioners, or utilizing online resources.
Active music-making—with the voice, body and instruments, individually and with others—should be at the heart of any music education. Active music-making is participatory, interactive, reflective and creative. It is a means to express and understand the self and others while deepening musical learning, for anyone and at any level, in formal and informal contexts.
In addition to the intangible qualities that arise from profound musical experiences, the benefits of active music-making are emotional, cognitive, physical and social. Therefore, profound and fully participatory programs of active music-making will support the development of global citizens who respect and protect humanism and humanity, and thereby support the various conditions for our survival as social beings.
Universal access to active music-making relies on the availability of financial and human resources; its provision must be championed (with reference to the many personal and societal benefits) as a priority at every level of national, regional and local leadership; and enough resources allocated to delivery. Trained and skilled music educators are needed to support the musicianship of others, along with collaborations between schools, families and the community in its broadest sense. Influential voices and networks within and across nations must advocate for a universal understanding of why active music-making is so important, and establish and communicate clear policies for its implementation.
An education in music can be provided for all ages and levels and in formal, non-formal and informal contexts. It can be facilitated by specialized music teachers, non-music teachers, professional or amateur musicians, family and community members or peers. Universal access to high-quality music education in school requires a professional music educator workforce: research and experience indicate that music is generally best taught by specialized teachers who have access to both robust pre-service education and continuing education in music. Due to disparities in policies and available resources, this goal can be difficult to achieve in practice but is well worth collective and local effort.
There is thus an urgent need for teacher education programs to empower music teachers to meet the needs of all learners. In order to realize overarching principles—such as universal access, inclusivity, and diversity—the goal of music teacher education is to produce effective teachers equipped with theoretical knowledge, empathy, artistic experience, pedagogical expertise, confidence, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Additionally, they must develop a deep understanding of the diverse historical, cultural, psychological and philosophical foundations of learning and teaching music, including cultural competence, political consciousness and social-emotional awareness.
This type of preparation often takes place at higher education institutions. Both an investment in institutional resources and political will are necessary to ensure the provision of a sufficient number of high-quality teacher education programs. Programs must be research-based; be subjected to rigorous evidence-based evaluation; and closely relate to school curricula, educational and cultural policy contexts, and real-life challenges and solutions. Teachers should take the opportunity to engage in peer learning and have access to skilled mentors and supervisors. They should also become familiar with and competent in how to advocate for robust teacher education.