Music is an awesome phenomenon. Virtually everybody likes music, and for many, it plays a huge role in their everyday lives. Consider the fact that music—merely a sequence of sounds received by our ears—can actually make us feel strong emotions that are otherwise reserved for real life experiences! No wonder it’s so captivating. The processes of making music are equally remarkable. Whether it’s composing an original song, singing with heart-felt expression, or playing a musical instrument, many complex skills are in play. It requires sensory perception, mental thought and planning, physical execution, and emotional sensitivity. And all at the same time. Yet, musicians are able to coordinate their own efforts with others to create amazing musical products.
With the right conditions and experiences, people can become so musical that their performance seems effortless. I think that just goes to show that, contrary to our culture’s general belief in innate talent, music making is a skill that is acquired (not inherited), much like speaking and reading your native language. And just like language learning, I believe human beings are hard-wired for becoming musical.
For these and other reasons, I am a strong advocate of music education in schools. Music teachers have a long history of providing young people with rewarding musical experiences, producing highly skilled performers, and generally being powerful positive influences in the lives of their students. Yet I often wonder if current educational practices in school music are just scratching the surface. I’d like to see a much higher percentage of students involved in school music. The curriculum could expand to offer, for example, more experiences with popular styles (like rock, R & B, country, rap), and computer-based composing and recording techniques. I believe this can be done while maintaining the quality of traditional school band, choir, and orchestra activities.
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