Thursday, September 10, 2009

Making the most of music education at home

It's back-to-school week and many schools in Massachusetts, as well as around the country, are dealing with budget cuts by axing fine arts programs, including music, leaving parents struggling to bridge the gap on their own.

Some families are able to supplement with private classes, but most of our household budgets are feeling the crunch as well. If your school has done away with music classes for kids, how can you help them learn about music at home when you're as cash-strapped as the schools are? That's what we're talking about this week at's Child Caring blog.

The benefits of music education are well studied. High school music students score higher on the SAT than their non-musical peers. Carolyn Phillips, former executive director of the Norwalk Youth Symphony in Connecticut, writes that playing an instrument can help the development of areas of the brain devoted to language and reasoning, and reading music can help children understand fractions and proportional math, both of which are necessary when it comes studying technology and science. Playing in a group teaches kids about teamwork, and performing in front of a crowd helps them learn how to evaluate risk and handle anxiety.

Practicing music underscores the ideas that mistakes can be fixed, instant gratification is rare, and perfection usually comes with dedication and hard work -- all ideas that apply to everyday adult life. And just listening to familiar tunes while you work can help boost productivity.

So why deny kids such a valuable educational tool? According to some experts, school districts commit resources to subjects that are on the MCAS test. Since the arts aren't tested, they're often the first courses to get cut, John W. Hooker, an art education teacher at Bridgewater State College, told Wicked Local. But even if programs aren't cut to save money, a February report by the Boston Foundation shows that while 70 percent of the students in Boston's 143 public schools get "some type of arts instruction during the school day," middle- and high-school students are "less likely to receive adequate amounts of arts instruction." The report also points out that while experts recommend twice-weekly, year-long arts education, only 5 percent of elementary-school students and 6 percent of middle-school students in Boston get that kind of instruction.

You don't have to be able to play an instrument yourself in order to help your kids learn about music. Playing games like Rock Band or Wii Music can teach rhythm, improve hand-eye coordination, and foster a love of music from The Beatles to Beethoven and everything in between.

If you had to cut out private lessons, but still want kids to practice at home, you can download sheet music for kids at Children's Music Workshop, or take advantage of their online music theory helper. A free 10-day trial at Lesson Planet gives you access to more than 600 classical music lesson plans for students in kindergarten on up.

Try using your computer to create your own compositions: Groovy Music City uses animation and voiceovers to teach kids about the fundamentals of composition and to guide them in making their own music. It offers kids a library of sounds to tweak and shape, the online tutorials are easy to follow, and the interface feels kind of like a video game. The software, which costs about $40, works on Macs and PCs, and is geared toward kids age 7 and older; kids can share their musical creations with their peers at

Has music education been cut at your child's school? Do you think it's important for kids to study music, or should schools stay focused on adacemics and testing?


Fantasia Lillith said...

I loved this article. My Mother is ... was ... an Opera singer. Music was a big part of my day to day life growing up. I no longer play the Oboe or sing ... but what I learned from music is with me every day.

Silly Bus said...

I'm glad to have visited your blog and good to know you! I find it interesting and informative.