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Why Music?

By Heather Thompson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #20, 1997.

Studying music can change your life. Now, how does it do that?
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Heather Thompson

As a private music teacher, I regularly receive calls from parents seeking advice on musical education. Most parents who call have already decided that music is a worthwhile and necessary artistic pursuit for their child, but few recognize the extent to which music will benefit and influence their budding musician.

As a homeschool parent, the decision to include musical study in our family curriculum was never in question. Having played the piano for 25 years, I was familiar firsthand with both the joys and frustrations of musical study. After years of technical work and artistic challenge I can honestly say that the hundreds of hours of pure musical pleasure have been worth the thousands of hours of diligent practice! But what are the other benefits of musical study? Certainly personal enjoyment and relaxation are, in themselves, worthy reasons for pursuing musical training; however, many hobbies offer these same advantages. What specific emotional, physical and intellectual benefits can a parent expect to see in their child as a result of musical training?

Music As Language

Music is a form of communicating and receiving thoughts and feelings. When I play a Mozart sonata or a Chopin nocturne, I am able to connect with composers of another era in a way which is as personal, if not more so, than if I was to read a letter written by them. When I listen to a Bach chorale, I glimpse the reverence and humility with which this great musical father approached all his sacred compositions. In the movie Immortal Beloved, the character of Beethoven describes the power of his art form as being able "to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer." (Of course, not all composers had thoughts which are suitable for the minds of children - or adults, for that matter!) As with literature, it is appropriate for Christians to be knowledgeably discerning of the music they hear and play. An informed listener will not only learn what makes "good music," he will become aware of its potential for mood alteration and influence.

Intellectual Benefits

I have always viewed musical study as a microcosm of the academic world, because any thorough study of a piece of music will involve the core scholastic subjects: math, language, history, and science. A beginning student who is learning a simple Bach minuet will go through the following steps of learning. First he will use decoding, sequencing, and pattern skills to make sense of the notation and to reshape those musical ideas as complete thoughts in his own mind. This process is the same one used to read words. Music is highly mathematical, and the student will need to fall back on his theory (music workbook) skills to know how high/low/ long/short to make each sound and silence. To take the music beyond the note-by-note stage the student needs to understand phrasing and form so it can be seen in larger sections, and then as a whole: this is the grammar and composition of music. As titles and musical directions are seldom given in English, the student will require a vocabulary of foreign language terms. To interpret the music properly, he will need to research the composer's life and culture, the social and historical context in which it was written, and the history of this form and style of music. Finally, to add artistic nuances to the piece the student must understand the mechanics of the piano in order to control the finished sounds through pedaling and touch - this is science.

Not every piece of music will be learned in such detail, but it should be obvious that including musical training in your child's homeschool routine cannot help but stimulate and nurture his growing mind.

Physical Coordination

The earliest forms of musical training at the pre-school and kindergarten levels should involve gross motor skill activities (clapping, rhythm instruments, movement to music). Instrumental study will involve a wide variety of gross motor skills (bowing a violin, sitting at a piano, breathing, moving a trombone slide) and fine motor skills (hand-eye coordination, finger independence). Singing involves the control of the tongue muscle and throat resonance cavity, skills which can only be achieved indirectly by manipulating other muscles to do the job. (If you don't believe this is difficult, just try relaxing your tongue!) This muscle training takes years to develop. While physical skills are also helpful in dance, gymnastics, and other sports, having good control of one's own body is its own reward.

Artistic Expression

Ruth Kazden, in A Parent's Guide to Successful Piano Lessons, writes, "Music is a wonderful means of self-expression. The inner self of a great performer is revealed to the listener as much as is the inner self of the composer whose works that performer interprets." Improvisation and composition can extend the creative aspects of musical training for musicians of all ages and abilities.

Discipline & Rewards

If, as a homeschool student, you've taken on the challenge and responsibility of learning at home, then you have probably already experienced the rewards of patient, careful work. Yet few subjects offer the immediate, tactile, and aesthetic rewards experienced with the mastery of a difficult passage of music. Your eight-year-old may be proud the day she sets a new flash-card speed record or completes a poem, but once a star is placed on the math record sheet or the poem is enjoyed at family reading time, her glory is seldom revisited. In contrast, musical accomplishments not only offer immediate gratification, they may be celebrated for months or years after formal work on the piece is completed.

Social Benefits

Playing or singing in a group encourages the sharing of musical experiences and ideas. Eurythmics classes, choirs, orchestras, bands, and chamber ensembles offer varied musical opportunities within a community or homeschool group. Family music nights can be staged within or between families. Leadership and teaching opportunities may arise for accomplished youth as a result of their musical training.


Concerts and festivals give students the chance to learn thoroughly and possibly memorize a musical selection, thus elevating the learning process to an even higher level through an intimate technical, analytical, and creative knowledge of the work. The performance itself cultivates poise and self-confidence.

Spiritual Benefits

As music is a vital part of Christian worship, musical knowledge and training will enable the student to be a willing and capable participant in worship services. Performance in this area requires humility and reverence, for the glory goes to God and not the performer. By studying the music of godly composers students can better understand how these musicians approached their craft.

Kazden writes, "Music can enrich the lives of all of us, bringing us sustenance in difficult times, and reinforcing the universal experiences of joy, conflict, tragedy, comedy, empathy, power, and spiritual fulfillment. Children who develop skills with any instrument not only have access to these experiences in the music they are interpreting, but are more open to understanding them in the music they will hear during their lifetimes."

I encourage all families to make music a vital part of their life learning!

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