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Grade 8 Literature Assessment Pro/Con Argument

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Should students be required to take music education classes?

  • Music Education Helps Students Thrive

  • Music Education Can Happen Anywhere


Article 1: Music Education Helps Students Thrive

School is where we learn the basic skills that we use throughout our lives. Courses like English, history, math, and science are required in school because they provide knowledge and build skills such as critical thinking and writing. Because music education also builds practical skills, it should be required in school. A recent study by the Dana Foundation, a brain research organization, found that participation in music programs increases students' motivation. The more students practiced their instruments, the more they practiced their reading skills. This, and other links between music and academics, led the authors of this study to conclude that students use the same discipline when they practice a new piece of music that they use when tackling a new piece of literature.

The academic benefits of playing music include more than just better reading skills. According to a 2007 University of Kansas study of standardized test scores, middle school students who attend schools with excellent band programs scored 22 percent better in English and 20 percent better in math than students from schools without music programs. For schools with average band programs, students still scored higher than students at schools without music programs.

The structure of the classroom gives consistency so that students can develop their music skills effectively. Teachers carefully choose the best, most appropriate pieces for students' skill level and build from there. As in English and history classes, the music student connects to a vast tradition of works during his or her study. As beginners, students learn iconic songs like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Learning these fundamental songs help build confidence and create a sense of accomplishment in students. Eventually, as their skills strengthen, students learn to play more difficult works by famous composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Wagner. Even though their music has been around for hundreds of years, these composer's songs still appear in modern movies, on TV, and even in video games.

Participation in music offers many other benefits for students. The act of playing an instrument is a physical activity, which requires muscle memory so that students' fingers hit the correct notes every time. Plus, every student needs this refreshing break from the usual class schedule. Musical skills use a different part of the brain than most academic subjects, which rely on class discussion or homework to keep students involved. In addition to building musical skills, playing music with a group also teaches students how to work with others.

If music education is not required, then students might never try it or might not have access to all its benefits. Too often music is seen as an extracurricular activity, but it can be so much more. Through this healthy outlet, students learn how to express different emotions. Composers write emotions into their music by using certain chords and note combinations to suggest sadness, increase suspense, or inspire. At first, a sheet of music seems like a bunch of notes on a page filled with bars and strange symbols; but when students read music and play it together, they bring those notes to life. Those musical moments can happen at any level and every student should have the opportunity to experience them.

Article 2: Music Education Can Happen Anywhere

Although formal music education can be beneficial, it should not be required for all students. Some of the best, most educational music moments happen outside of the classroom. For example, most musicians will tell you that they had to practice solo for hours and hours to get a song performance-ready. This practice involves figuring out sections that trip you up, deciding where to take breaths (if you're playing a wind or brass instrument), and interpreting the song in order to emphasize the emotions in the music or to add some of your own style. Those musical moments just do not fit into a classroom setting.

In addition, money is tight these days. Many families are having a hard time just paying their bills. But most school music programs require students or their parents to buy or rent an instrument, which can be expensive, especially as your musical skills grow. For example, a beginner's saxophone can cost around $300. But beginner's instruments are not top quality, so advanced students are often advised to upgrade to a semi-professional or professional instrument. With better quality instruments, you get a better sound and can really show your musical skills. Depending on the brand and its appearance or extra features, a higher quality saxophone can cost $1,200 or more. And, this cost is not the only one that you have to consider. Reeds will need to be replaced and private music lessons, though helpful, can get expensive depending on a student's level of skill and musical goals. For many families, formal music education is simply more expensive than they can afford.

Music education does have many benefits, though. For example, in a 2007 study of standardized test scores by the University of Kansas, middle school students from schools with music programs scored 22 percent better in English and 20 percent better in math than students from schools without these kinds of programs. These statistics seem to make a convincing case, but the study does not say if the students at these schools were required to take music classes or if they were offered as an elective. This missing information suggests that these schools may have additional courses and better educational resources, in addition to their excellent band programs, that help students get higher scores.

Research studies also suggest that having musical ability can help improve your reading skills. However, these studies often overlook the benefits of practicing at home or even learning to play an instrument on your own. Online video tutorials, free tablature websites, library resources, and even musically-talented friends or family members make it possible for you to explore music on your own time and learn the kinds of music you want to learn. Most traditional music education programs focus on classical music, contemporary full band arrangements, and music theory. Some people may prefer to learn about and play other types of music. By acting on your own curiosity, you might be more likely to enjoy whatever type of music you end up playing.

You don’t even have to learn how to play an instrument in order to love and appreciate music. Just listening to music can reduce stress. Music therapy, which can include playing or listening to music, helps people of all ages and levels of health to express their emotions and find comfort. This type of therapy is not limited to any specific type of music or level of musical ability. Sometimes all you need to do to change your mood is belt out a catchy pop song or mime a crazy metal solo on your air guitar (which never needs an upgrade or new strings).

Anyone can enjoy the benefits of music without ever picking up an instrument or taking a music education class. Music has the ability to move and inspire us, regardless of whether it is explored in a classroom, at a friend’s house, online, or anywhere else.

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