Editor Note: The following article has been published on behalf of Judith Webster, Chief Executive of Music for Youth. Ms Webster recently gave a speech at a ‘Character Education conference’, in which she discussed character education outside the classroom and developing effective extra-curricular music offerings to support the development of a child’s character – widening access and engagement with communities.
“Music has the power of forming the character and therefore should be introduced into the education of the young’ Aristotle [the Greek philosopher] has been mentioned a few times this morning.
I would like to reflect on the benefits of sustained music-making as part of a broad and rich curriculum to draw your attention to the impact on a young person’s general attainment and as part of the development of character.
Why is music so important in character education?
For those who are unfamiliar with the team, character education is an umbrella term loosely used to describe the teaching of children and adults in a manner that will help them develop variously as moral, well mannered, behaved, non-bullying, healthy and socially acceptable human beings.
I’m the Chief Executive of Music for Youth, we’re a national music charity which presents life-changing performance opportunities in music for young people up to 21. We put on large scale festivals and concerts which celebrate the positive achievements of young people within a supportive environment.
Approximately 40,000 young people take part in our events each year and only last a week, in a review of our spectacular prom concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, Ivan Hewitt of the Daily Telegraph said, “However worthy the goals of inclusion and rescuing youth from straying on the wrong side of the tracks, Music for Youth is keenly aware that musical standards are all important. It’s through a focus on something beyond themselves, namely that magical noble thing called music, that many of these kids find themselves.”
So I would like to reflect on the benefits of music, as I said, drawing particularly on Sue Hallam’s research paper, The Power of Music, from the Institute of Education. Speech and music have a number of shared processing systems, musical experiences which enhance processing can, therefore, impact on the perception of language which in turn impacts on learning to read. Learning an instrument has an impact on intellectual development, particularly spatial reasoning.
Learning to play an instrument enhances prime motor coordination, there’s a consistent relationship between active engagement in music and general attainment. Music participation enhances measured creativity, particularly when the music itself is creative, such as improvisation.
Looking at personal and social development then; playing an instrument can lead to a sense of achievement, an increase in self-esteem, increased confidence and provides a means of self-expression. Think about when you’re practicing your instruments over and over, you don’t want to let the side down when you’re playing alongside your peers, whether it’s in an orchestra, band, a duo, whatever.
Music and social skills are directly linked
Participation in music groups promotes friendship with like-minded people, self-confidence, social skills, networking, a sense of belonging, teamwork, self-discipline, a sense of accomplishment, co-operation, responsibility, commitment, mutual support, increased concentration and an outlet for relaxation.
Working together in small music groips requires trust and respect and skills of negotiation and compromise. Increasing the amount of classrom music within the curriculum can increase social cohesion within the classroom, greater slf-reliance, better social adjustment, and more positive attitudes, particularly in low ability disaffected young people.
In adolescence, music makes a major contribution to the development of self-identity and is support when young people feel troubled or lonely.
We know that active music-making has a much more powerful effect on wellbeing and passive listening, we know that the quality of teaching is key. For young people to access the benefits of sustained music-making as part of developing character, we need to provide a blended offer through working in partnership and combining in-school and out of school opportunities.
Equality in music education
The National Plan for Music Education (from 2011) set up an infrastructure of Music Education Hubs which are themselves consortia or organisations charged with providing music education for all young people in their area, whatever their interests and backgrounds. This framework cearly states that all children in state education, no matter their circumstances, should have the opportunity to sing in a group or learn an instrument. This means the need to work closely with schools and other partners such as Music for Youth and arts organisations.
Music for Youth connects the young musicians across the country through national events that complement regional and local opportunities, and provide those inspirational moments to work for which really do change lives. It’s vital to work together, it’s vital that we pool our resources and create progression pathways that facilitate sustained engagement as this is when the real impact kicks in. Progression means working together to enable a young person to craft their own learning journey, drawing on the collective opportunities offered by successive providers.”
Music for Youth host annual Proms to encourage young, talented musicians to try something new, improve their confidence and give them a memorable experience.
“So at Music for Youth, our aim is not to train musicians for careers in the music industry, but to offer young people opportunities to spread their wings, achieve their potential, have a heightened sense of who they are and be celebrated for that.
I started my professional life as a music therapist, that training has informed every aspect of my work ever since. In our troubled and divided times, it’s never been more important to enable young people to celebrate their own achievements.