Thursday, March 15, 2007
The value of music education
Dave Munger has a link to a recent Northwestern University study on music training and auditory development. This study found that those participants with at least six years of musical instrument training had better auditory processing abilities than those with less than two years of training, even at the basic level of the brainstem. This is a very interesting study, and an intriguing finding that training can affect brain structure of such a low order. But i am concerned about how this study might be used. The lede of the Science Daily article linked above implies that music lessons are valuable because they fine-tune the brain. And the lead author of the study doesn't help: "Our findings underscore the pervasive impact of musical training on neurological development. Yet music classes are often among the first to be cut when school budgets get tight. That's a mistake..." This exhibits the same problem that the Baby Mozart/Mozart Effect craze has, that music's value is measured by what abilities it can impart for "more important activities." The value of music education is not in making Johnny a better speaker or giving Suzy better spatial awareness abilities. The study of music puts us in touch with that most ineffable of things, our creativity. Strip away the crutches of language or visual representation, and music is the most abstract form of emotional/aesthetic expression. Schopenhauer called music the most direct expression of the Will, our inner being. Getting in touch with our own feelings, the feelings of others, the joys of collaborative creativity, these are the values of music education.