My goal in this essay is to convince you that it is important that music be a part of your homeschool. My goal is to persuade you that music is essential to your children’s educational development. For you this may not be necessary—you recognize the benefits of music in the lives of your children. But perhaps you view music as simply a recreational perk in people’s lives, and if your child demonstrates interest or talent in music, then you would be happy to encourage that child participate in musical activities. But if another of your children doesn’t particularly care for music, then he or she is just fine without it. I am going to try to convince you that every child—every person—should have music in his or her life.
Now you probably expect me to cite scientific studies about how music helps cognitive development and convince you as to the validity of the “Mozart effect.” I will do some of that here, because I do believe that those kinds of benefits do exist. However, I do not think that these are the best arguments to defend music education. There is a more fundamental reason that music should be a part of your home, and we will get to that shortly.
As Christian parents, you are bringing up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
As Christian parents, I know that you have a burden to educate your children. It is your objective to develop every element of your child’s person so that he will grow to be a mature adult. The Bible gives parents instruction about the educational development of their children that can provide principles for how you can help in that education. I want to give you two examples—one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament—that will lay out an outline for this of how you should be educating your children, and we will see how music can significantly help in all these areas.
Take, for instance, the example of God’s command to the Israelites to teach the Hebrew confession of faith to their children. The central statement of belief for God’s chosen people is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6, and it is interesting what command he gives them at the end of these verses:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Here is a command to impress these important truths on their children, and what is important for our discussion is what elements of a person are emphasized in this confession of faith. God addresses the whole of man—what we think, what we do, and what we feel. He first addressed what they must believe in their minds: that God is one and that he is Yahweh. He then addressed their emotions: they are to love that God. And finally, he addressed their wills: they must obey that God. The rest of Scripture deals the same way with man—his mind, will, and emotions are to fall under the rule of God. All three work together in order for a person to glorify God: intellect, action, and affection.
The other Scriptural example I would like to highlight is from Jesus Christ’s educational development. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” “Wisdom” refers to his academic knowledge and his ability to use that knowledge to make good decisions. “Stature” refers to his physical development. “Favor with God” references his spiritual maturity. And “favor with men” deals with his social abilities. This verse has always provided a good basis for a well-rounded liberal arts educational philosophy.
Based on these two passages, I am going to lay out a basic outline upon which you are already focusing your children’s education, and I will demonstrate how music can be instrumental in accomplishing each of them. In some areas music will serve only as an aid to your educational goals. But in others—one in particular—helping your child reach his full potential will be virtually impossible without some musical influence in his or her life.
It is my goal to demonstrate how music will help your children:
Music will aid your child’s physical development.
Music can help particularly infants and young children in their physical development. If your children are already in their awkward teenage years, then it may be too late for them! I’ll actually mention some ways that even teens can be helped physically through music, but it is when children are first developing physically that music can be a great help.
Children develop physically through movement, and music is essentially movement. Physical therapists tell us that repetition of movements is important for brain and motor development. Rhythm, tempo, and different kinds of sounds in music all help make a child’s physical growth both quick and smooth.
Children will naturally move to music, and studies show that as they rock and sway to the rhythm of the music, their inner ear is developed and their balance improves. As they grow older, an internalization of steady beat helps them with coordination and the ability to walk steadily.
Another important skill that children learn at an early age is something called inhibitory control—the ability to stop and stay still. We’ve all seen children who can’t quite do this yet; they often run into things. Exposing children to music with varying tempos (speeds) will help them develop this ability sooner.
We all know how perceptive young children are. They notice any small changes in their environment. When children are exposed to music with all its wonderful array of variety in sounds, children learn to be active listeners. This helps them to be able to distinguish between different kinds of sounds—high and low, loud and soft—and this kind of sound discrimination stimulates the child’s first foundations for learning the variety of sounds of language. Studies have shown that children who are exposed to music at an early age usually develop language skills more easily. Furthermore, listening to vocal music will quicken a child’s pace in learning to speak as well, just as speaking to him would.
There are two areas in a child’s physical development that will aid even older children and teens, and both of them are especially true of children who not only regularly listen to music but also participate in musical performance. The first is in creativity. As a child experiences the varieties in music and even pieces of music with interesting story-lines or plots, he will be drawn into the creative endeavor. The other is further development in coordination. If you’ve got teens who have trouble knowing the difference between their left foot and their right, music might be the answer! Playing musical instruments, whether piano or trumpet or flute, helps develop motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and even lung capacity (if a wind instrument).
Music will aid your child’s academic development.
Now this is where we’ll get into the so-called “Mozart effect” a bit. You’ve probably heard or read research that indicates that music makes children smarter. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not entirely true. There’s no proof that music actually makes a person smarter. However, research does seem to indicate that there is a correlation between participating in music and academic achievement. And let me say at this point that in all these areas, actually participating in music is always more beneficial then just listening to music, although listening is also crucial and beneficial.
Now I’ll not bore you with a whole lot of statistics and research, but I will reference one research study as an example, and then explain how musical involvement aids academic development. Here is an excerpt from an article by a woman named Dee Dickinson published by New Horizons for Learning (1993) called “Music and the Mind.”
Recently a number of reports have appeared that attest to the connection between music and academic achievement. In a study of the ability of fourteen year-old science students in seventeen countries, the top three countries were Hungary, the Netherlands, and Japan. All three include music throughout the curriculum from kindergarten through high school. In the 1960’s, the Kodály system of music education was instituted in the schools of Hungary as a result of the outstanding academic achievement of children in its “singing schools.” Today, there are no third graders who cannot sing on pitch and sing beautifully. In addition, the academic achievement of Hungarian students, especially in math and science, continues to be outstanding. The Netherlands began their music program in 1968, and Japan followed suit by learning from the experience of these other countries.
Another report disclosed the fact that the foremost technical designers and engineers in Silicon Valley are almost all practicing musicians.
A third report reveals that the schools who produced the highest academic achievement in the United States today are spending 20% to 30% of the day on the arts, with special emphasis on music. Included are St. Augustine Bronx elementary school, which, as it was about to fail in 1984, implemented an intensive music program. Today 90% of the students are reading at or above grade level.
There are a variety of reasons that musical involvement aids academic achievement, some of which are purely practical reasons. For instance, playing a musical instrument requires discipline, concentration, patience, and hard work. These are skills that are also necessary for academics.
But there is also evidence that participation in music does increase a person’s ability to think abstractly, which would help in mathematics and science. It also, as we have already seen, aids in a person’s language development, which is crucial in academics. Finally, because music is both rational and abstract, music helps bridge between the left and right sides of the brain.
Music will aid your child’s social development.
Involving children in musical groups such as choirs, music classes, bands, or orchestras provides them with wonderful tools for their social development as well. Participation in such groups teach them teamwork, humility, and the ability to interact well with others.
Music will aid your child’s moral development.
As Christians, you are concerned with teaching your children biblical truth that will guide their lives. One hymn-writer famously said, “Things learned in song are remembered long.” Many of you have probably used music to help you learn the books of the Bible or some other facts. Musical tunes stick in our heads, and if we match music with biblical truths, it aids in our retention of those truths. Of course, singing hymns accomplishes these goals.
Music will aid your child’s emotional development.
Now up to this point the use of music to aid your children’s physical, academic, social, and moral development is not the only method for maturing your children in these areas. I have tried to demonstrate how music would definitely be a help in these areas, but you would obviously need other activities to develop your children. For instance, athletics aid a child’s physical development, active involvement in a local church is essential to a person’s moral development, and obviously your children need to be taught academic disciplines in order to mature intellectually.
But what about this next area of your children’s education—their emotions? I dare say you probably haven’t given much consideration as to the emotional development of your children, or at least not nearly as much as in these other areas. However, if you know your Bible at all, you know that a person’s affections are just as important as what he believes or what he does. For instance, the greatest commandment in all of Scripture, according to Jesus Christ, is to love the Lord with all of our being. The maturity of our emotions is crucial.
So how can you, as Christian parents, help to develop and mature your children’s emotions in the same way that you help them develop physically or morally or intellectually? Certainly, biblical truth is the root of right affections, so the use of words through teaching and preaching does help to mature believers’ emotions as well as their intellect and morality. But the fact of the matter is that emotions simply cannot be adequately put into words. If I want to tell you what you should believe, I use words. If I want to tell you how you should act, I use words. But if I want to tell you how you should feel, words are inadequate.
Furthermore, words are not only incapable of telling you how you should feel, but they are also inadequate as expressions of how you feel. Any husband knows what it is to be unable to adequately express with words the love he has for his wife. No wife is satisfied with an occasional, “I love you”—only words to express what can be better expressed by other means. Sometimes a look or a touch does more to express heartfelt affection than any words can. Or this is why we have love poems—they help us express love in a way that cannot be expressed with just words. Likewise, Christians need another language than just words to both prescribe the affections they should have and describe the affections they do have.
That other language is music.
If you as a parent are concerned with the full development of your children, then you must be concerned with their emotional development just as much as their physical development or their academic development. God has given us music as a tool to help us express right emotions. Any casual reader of Scripture will recognize the clear connection between music and emotional expression. Here are just a few examples:
How did Moses and the people of Israel express their joy in being delivered from Egypt? “Then Moses and the Israelites sand this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted.” (Ex. 15:1)
When the Israelites defeated the Canaanites in Judges 5, they sang a song: “Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I will sing to the LORD, I will sing; I will make music to the LORD, the God of Israel.”
When David wanted to express a broken and contrite heart to the Lord, he did so through music in Psalm 51.
In Psalm 108, David specifically says that he will sing and make music with his soul, linking music and the expression of emotions.
Psalm 147 says that we should express our thanksgiving through song.
And, of course, the Psalms are filled with commands to express our affection and praise to the Lord through music.
Ephesians 5:19 says that we are to sing and make melody with our hearts to the Lord.
In Acts 16 when Paul and Silas were in prison and probably fearful for their lives, what did they do? They sang hymns to God.
James 5:13 says: “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing a song of praise.”
And the fact of the matter is that we will be singing as an expression of our affection for God for all eternity! (Rev. 5:13)
Scarcely is there a mention of music in the Bible without some connection to emotion. If anything is clear from the Bible’s discussion of music, it is that God thinks that music is important. So should we. Music provides a language for a right expression of emotion, and good music actually educates our emotions so that they develop to maturity.
This is why those who say that music is only for recreation or simply for enjoyment are completely missing the function of music. Even those who argue that the primary benefit of music is to aid in the physical or academic development of people are missing the fundamental function of music. Certainly music can help in other developmental areas, as we’ve seen. But teaching—words—is really the best way to develop a child’s intellect. Music can be an important aid, but it is through words that children learn math and history, and science. This confusion may be the reason music is viewed with so much indifference in our society and especially in our educational system. Music is seen only as enjoyment or a means to an end, and not an end in and of itself. But a proper understanding of music as the language of emotions, and the only thing that can adequately mature a person emotionally, would emphasize the true importance of music.
I firmly believe that a progressive neglect of music education in our society is one of the primary reasons for so many societal problems. There are, of course, many other reasons for the many problems in our society, not the least of which is the depravity of mankind. But the fact is that our society is emotionally ill-developed. Why? Because fewer and fewer people are educated in good music. People are angry and bitter and irrational. Why? Because they do not involve themselves with good music, and the only music they do hear is the angry, bitter, irrational music that permeates the radio waves.
Which raises an important point: Music educates the emotions, but it can educate them for either good or bad. Not just any music will mature a person’s emotions. Some music will debase your emotions. Therefore, it is important that we be discriminating in what kind of music to which we expose ourselves and our children.
So music can truly help mature your children physically and academically and socially and morally. But the primary benefit—the crucial benefit—of music education in anyone’s life is that it is really the only thing that God has given us to help mature our affections. If you are truly concerned about your children’s full development, then I truly believe that you must include some kind of music education in your children’ lives (and your life for that matter).
Music will aid your child’s spiritual development.
The final area of your child’s development that I want to briefly discuss is his spiritual development—his “favor with God.” I mentioned a moment ago that according to Jesus Christ, proper affection for the Lord is the greatest commandment. And we also saw many Scripture passages that emphasize that music is the greatest way to shape and express our affections for God. This is why we have music in churches! And this is why you should have music in your home. Good music will help shape your children’s affections for God and will give you a language for the expression of right affections to God.
Practical suggestions for incorporating music into your child’s development
I hope I have convinced you today that music should at least be a part of your regular homeschool activities. I’d like to conclude with some practical suggestions of how you can make music a part of your family, and specifically how you can make sure that it is educating your affections and your children’s affections in the right way.
- Make sure that the music you have in your home is educating your children’s affections for the good and not debasing them.
Just as there are right and wrong kinds of emotions, so there are right and wrong kinds of music depending on what kinds of emotions it expresses. Therefore, you must be discerning as to what kind of music you will allow in your home. Just as you would do research to determine what kind of food is healthy for your children or which textbooks would educate your children’s minds the best, so you must do the research to determine how music communicates emotions and what kind of music is best for your family.
- Expose your children to recordings of good music.
You may say, “My children don’t like classical music.” Well, then it is up to you to change their tastes. You do this with vegetables, don’t you? If it were up to your children, they would eat bubblegum and cotton candy all day. But you know that meat and potatoes and vegetables are better for them, so you require them to eat them, and pretty soon they develop a taste for what is better. The same is true for good music.
- Take your children to good concerts.
Your children’s appreciation and love for good music will further increase if you expose them to live music. In fact, one of the best ways to get your children interested in pursuing a music instrument themselves is with live music.
- Involve your children in good musical groups.
Along with helping to educate your children’s emotions, being involved in musical groups will help develop their social skills and has other benefits as well.
- Encourage your students to start a musical instrument.
Listening to good music is good, but playing a musical instrument is better. Many of the benefits of music discussed above are only fully realized when you actually perform music—especially with a group. Find a local music teacher, invest in an instrument, and get your children playing, even if you don’t think they have a particular musical talent. You might be surprised.
- Consistency is the key.
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard of parents who allow their children to start a musical instrument or a choir, and then after a few months or a year when the novelty wares off (which it inevitably will!), they let their children quit. This certainly will not help to develop patience, endurance, and discipline in the child, and only consistent participation in music will have longterm effects.
- Sing, sing sing!
Get ahold of a good hymnal or two, and make singing a regular part of your day. Sing in the morning, sing before meals, sing during the day, and sing during family worship. The more you sing, the more your children (and you!) will be truly nurtured in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and the more they will grow in wisdom, in stature, and in in favor with God and men.