Why Music Is Essential in Elementary Schools

Joshua Ball

Research shows that students’ critical thinking and creativity increase through exposure to music. Research also suggests that the mathematical abilities of children who participate in music lessons may be increased through the study of music. Yet funds are often lacking for strong music programs in Ontario schools.

Over $125 million is spent each year on “student achievement” in Ontario’s almost four thousand elementary schools. The annual budget for standardized testing in Ontario through the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) is $33 million. The Ministry of Education’s Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat (LNS), which is devoted to student achievement, has an annual budget of $78 million. Additionally, salaries for 80 student achievement officers total $14.1 million.

Is this the best use of our money? The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) suggests the funding for EQAO would be better spent on strategies that focus on engaging students and giving teachers more time to spend with individual students. This includes increasing the number of  specialist teachers in the arts. Here’s something to think about: if the $125 million spent on student achievement were suspended for only one year and diverted to music programs, each Ontario elementary school would receive over $31,000. This one-time payment could jump-start school music programs where there are no instruments or resources. For schools that have an active music program, this payment could be used to upgrade, repair or increase their musical instrument inventory.

There are good reasons to teach music.

  • Music is part of what makes us human.
  • Music has been with us for millennia. Our ancestors used music to communicate with each other.
  • Music gives all people an equal chance for expression.
  • Music lasts a lifetime. Studies have shown that Alzheimer patients who have diminished speech capabilities are able to sing lyrics of songs from their youth.
  • Music teaches people valuable life skills. It requires commitment. It teaches co-operation, teamwork and patience.
  • Music teaches body awareness and eye-hand coordination through clapping, stamping and playing an instrument.
  • Music, like mathematics, is a universal language. Some people need coaching or coaxing; however, everyone can make music.

On the television program  The Agenda with Steve Paikin,  cognitive music psychology researcher Daniel Levitin stated that music is a core element of our identity as a species and paves the way for more complex behaviours such as language and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next. Howard Gardner also recognized the importance of music when he created his theory of multiple intelligences. By teaching children music we are introducing them to abstract concepts and intangible experiences. The fleeting nature of music means it can be interpreted in many different ways. The same piece of music often


kids sitting at laptop

Four young faces, side by side, stare at the computer monitor. Occasionally, they point at the screen, jot notes, discuss new information and debate. This is the image of involved, interested and integrated learning for which we all strive.

kids in classroom

Creative thinking is afundamental skill necessary for our survival on this planet. The performing folk arts in education can nurture this essential skill. At this point in time there has never been a more urgent need for an approach to education that prepares children to face the challenges of the twenty-first century.