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Making music education a priority outside of school

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  September 9, 2009 11:54 AM

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Many Massachusetts schools -- as well as schools 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?

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: here and chime in: 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 academics and testing?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at and follow her on Twitter: @WriteEditRepeat

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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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