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Music & Citizenship: Can Playing a Musical Instrument Help Your Child Become a Better Citizen?

Aug 17, 2007
Disregard the popular image of rappers with their ghetto blasters, terrorizing neighborhoods with eardrum-splitting cacophony. Consider instead our delightful school bands and orchestras... and ponder on whether those students might be becoming our best future citizens.

Unlikely as it may seem, recent scientific research suggests this hypothesis might actually be true. It appears studying music can, in fact, impact the development of the human personality, especially in the area of socialization. In particular, music education encourages self-discipline and diligence, traits which carry over into other areas.

According to statistics compiled by the National Data Resource Center, students who can be classified as 'disruptive' (based on factors such as frequent skipping of classes, times in trouble, in-school suspensions, disciplinary reasons given, arrests, and drop-outs) total 12.14 percent of the total school population. In contrast, only 8.08 percent of students involved in music classes meet the same criteria as 'disruptive'.

Neurobiologist Norman Weinberger reports on another research study by Martin Gardiner of Brown University. According to Weinberger, writing in the Winter 2000 Issue of MuSICA Research Notes, Gardiner's study checked the relationship between arrest records of teenagers and their degree of involvement in music. He analyzed a large-scale data base that included information gathered over a period of many years for more than a thousand residents of Rhode Island.

Gardiner tracked people from birth through the age of thirty, and found that the greater the involvement in music, the lower the arrest record. Teens who had music education were less likely to get into trouble than students who didn't. However, those who were also involved in playing a musical instrument had even fewer brushes with the law. Those who had the most experience, including good sight-reading ability, had a negligible arrest record.

Gardiner's study, which took place in 2000, is backed by others. The National Association for Music Education publishes a fact sheet on its website which quotes the Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Report. According to the January 1998 report, secondary students who participated in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime - and current - use of all substances (alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs).

And a 1990 study at the National Arts Education Research Center, concluded that students who participated in arts programs in selected elementary and middle schools in New York City showed significant increases in self-esteem and thinking skills.

The results of studies such as these are promising for the future of our society, especially in the light of a 2003 Gallup Poll Survey showing record numbers of Americans now play musical instruments.

This survey - conducted by the Gallup Organization (commissioned by NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants) - found that Americans are playing musical instruments at the highest levels since 1978.

Just over half, (54 percent), of households surveyed had a member who plays a musical instrument. And in 48 percent of households where at least one person played an instrument, there were two or more additional members who also played.

Ninety-seven percent of respondents agreed that playing a musical instrument provides a sense of accomplishment and encourages expression, and 85 percent believe it makes someone smarter. An equal number regretted not learning to play an instrument and 67 percent said they would still like to learn.

Interestingly, the survey also showed that an increasing number of young people are becoming involved in music, with the percentage of people ages of 5 to 17 who play an instrument at 31 percent, up from 25 percent in 1985.

Of the total respondents a further 27 percent were between the ages of 18 to 24.

Most of those questioned began their music education before their teens with 64 percent saying they started music study between the ages of 5 to 11 and 18 percent between the ages of 12 to 14.

In his highly acclaimed book, A Users Guide to the Brain, Ratey John J, MD notes: "The musician is constantly adjusting decisions on tempo, style, rhythm, phrasing and feeling - training the brain to become incredibly good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once. Dedicated practice of this orchestration can have a great payoff for lifelong attention skills, intelligence and an ability for self-knowledge and expression."

Good citizens require many of these same skills in order to live harmoniously with other human beings. So as you move to a new town or take up a new job, it could just be worth enquiring if your neighbors and colleagues are musicians.
About the Author
Duane Shinn is the author of over 500 music courses for adults. His book-CD-DVD course titled "How To Play Chord Piano In Ten Days!" has sold over 100,000 copies around the world. He is the author of the popular free 101-week online e-mail newsletter titled "Amazing Secrets Of Exciting Piano Chords & Sizzling Chord Progressions" with over 57,400 current subscribers.
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