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  • Aparna Shakkarwar

Dear education policymakers, please stop defunding music programs

Music programs are often the first to be cut when schools are facing a budget crisis. However, music education has been shown to help with cognitive development and social and personal skills. Its numerous benefits demonstrate why music programs should not be removed from schools.

Oftentimes, music is one of the first programs to be removed in schools when schools are lacking funds. This has been a trend for years, but the recent fixation on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) as the “core” subjects for national education curricula has caused other subjects to suffer. Aróstegui (2016) argues that for the past fifteen years, educational policymakers have written policies for a “knowledge-based economy,” as defined by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). The OECD recommends an “economy-based curriculum,” and therefore, education policy has recently been centered around reproducing knowledge that most effectively prepares students for this type of economy. STEM subjects are, therefore, seen as a priority because the knowledge that is produced from these subjects is the best for efficiency and economic development in today’s world. Because there are only a certain number of hours in a school day, the emphasis on STEM subjects decreases time allocated to the arts. Additionally, PISA results often cause an increase in time allocated to the subjects with low performance, further decreasing time dedicated to other subjects (Aróstegui, 2016).

Music is rarely seen as a core subject, but there is a vast bank of research that demonstrates the benefits of music education. On its own, music not only helps with cognitive development and social and personal skills (Kokotsaki & Hallam, 2007), but music is also a tool that can be used to reinforce other “core” subjects. Phillips (2010) discusses how affirming parallel concepts like math and reading while teaching music can lead to gains for students. Music contains most other subjects within its teaching. For example, practicing rhythm in music requires counting, singing teaches students to quickly recognize words, and identifying melodic patterns enable students to recognize patterns and improve their ability to think about what will happen in the future (Phillips, 2010). Often the benefits of music education are not seen as valuable and music education is not one of the core subjects that schools are focused on. However, policymakers should understand that when taught parallel to other subjects, music can enhance the learning of these core subjects.

This is not to say, however, that music should just be seen as an aid to other subjects. Music education has been proven to improve social and personal skills in students. For example, music can lead to better group cohesion and awareness of others, as well as improved self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-expression (Kokotsaki & Hallam, 2007).

One student who is part of a choir in Helsinki shared that, “Singing in a choir gives me the feeling of community and belonging. This affects my academic as well as daily life because I feel better.”

Another Los Angeles-based choir singer felt, “Participating in choir helps my personal motivation because it gives me a sense of accomplishment that is outside of my career goals. Choir is one of the few things where I can improve and get better at something for its own

sake. It is helpful to remember that not everything I learn needs to be a useful skill to help me get ahead in life. Having a low stakes outlet that is simply for personal fulfillment, growth, and enjoyment restores my sense of self and gives me more motivation for the things I must do in life.”

Musicians also have better long- and short-term memory, language acquisition, and brain plasticity, and music education can help young children learn languages (Collins, 2014). Music education may also cause more development in the brain’s mirror neuron system, which is the part of the brain that allows humans to learn through imitation and develop social interactive skills, like empathy, by mirroring actions and behaviors of people around them (Rajmohan & Mohandas, 2007). Learning through imitation can be used for language development and skill learning. Finally, music education can lead to increased levels of brain plasticity in both the auditory and frontal cortices, leading to more creative and varied thinking and a healthier brain in later life (Collins, 2014).

It is also important to consider the impact of music on low-ability students, as well as students with a low socioeconomic status (SES). The improvement of social and personal skills as described above were more pronounced among underachieving, low-ability students (Kokotsaki & Hallam, 2007). Additionally, Doyle (2014) cites that students with a low SES who participate in the arts on average have better academic and social outcomes than other low SES students who do not participate. Specifically, in music education, low SES students who participate in instrumental music education have been shown to score higher on standardized achievement tests than their non-music counterparts. This demonstrates that music and other arts’ programs should not be the first to be cut from schools experiencing a lack of funding, as music benefits those who need help the most.

Music, both on its own and when used as an aid for other subjects, is beneficial to people of all ages and stages in life. While music does not fall into the “economy-based curriculum,” nor is it one of the PISA subjects, it is just as important to students’ learning as the other “core subjects.” Education should bring both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits to students, and students should not just be required to learn what is necessary to pass a test. Therefore, dear educational policymakers, please stop defunding music programs.



Aróstegui, J. L. (2016). Exploring the global decline of music education. Arts Education Policy Review, 117(2), 96-103.

Collins, A. (2014). Music education and the brain: What does it take to make a change? Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 32(2), 4–10.

Doyle, J. L. (2014). Cultural Relevance in Urban Music Education: A Synthesis of the Literature. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 32(2), 44–51.

Kokotsaki, D., & Hallam, S. (2007). Higher education music students’ perceptions of the benefits of participative music making. Music Education Research, 9(1), 93-109.

Phillips, K. H. (2010). Preserving music education in the 21st century. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, (185), 87-93.

Rajmohan, V., & Mohandas, E. (2007). Mirror neuron system. Indian journal of psychiatry, 49(1), 66–69.


Aparna is a first year Changing Education student who is interested in improving educational equity for marginalized students. Her passion for music motivated her to write this blog post as she hopes that educators and policymakers will see the importance of music education.

Key Words: Music, music education, neuroscience, language development, personal and social development

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