What Is It?

Music instruction in schools can include a variety of activities, such as singing, playing instruments (individually and/or in groups like orchestra or band), studying music theory, or learning to understand and appreciate music from various traditions.

Music is inherently prosocial in nature–it requires cooperation in order to create something beautiful, cultivates empathy by putting us in touch with our own and others’ emotions, and helps to bridge differences through songs that emphasize our common humanity.

Whether they are listening to it or creating it, music has the power to promote students’ understanding of others, reflect and shape their identities, and improve their well-being.

  • At a small K-12 school with no formal music program, the teachers decide that they want to incorporate prosocial music activities into their classrooms.
  • Elementary teachers cultivate students’ empathy through an “Improvising Rhythm” game during which groups of students use simple percussion instruments to improvise together, adjusting the rhythm as it changes by someone either in or out of the group.
  • Middle school teachers foster students’ emotional skills by first discussing how a piece of complex music makes them feel, and then mapping different parts of the piece to a range of emotions.
  • High school educators develop students’ social skills by having them compose a piece of music together through rap, choral singing, or with instruments.

Why Is It Important?

Though many recognize music as a valued component of a well-rounded education, pressures around academic performance and testing often result in the reduction of music education in schools. This has led to increased interest in the array of benefits, both academic and social-emotional, that schools may be foregoing by sidelining music.

Music can improve emotional well-being.

 

Music can help students understand and get along better with others.

  • The experience of singing or playing music together gives people the opportunity to develop networks of trust and reciprocity and can enhance social cohesion. Research shows that children in group music classes perceive better classroom climate and are more satisfied with school.
  • One study found that children who participated in a program of interactive group musical activities showed increases in empathy relative to other children. Another found that group music training enhanced children’s levels of sympathy and prosocial behavior, especially in those children who started off lower in such behavior.
  • Even listening to music with prosocial lyrics has been demonstrated to reduce aggressive feelings and behavior.

 

Music can enhance academic skills and performance.

Practices

Level
Duration
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Students identify the many ways that exist to express gratitude.
Middle School
≤ 1 hour
Students deepen their understanding of gratitude by “embodying” it.
Upper Elementary
≤ 30 minutes
Students listen to a song or piece of music and observe their responses.
Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 15 minutes
A daily mindfulness and music appreciation practice for the whole school or a single classroom
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School, College, Adult
≤ 15 minutes
Students use dance to learn about the world and celebrate diversity.
PreK/Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
≤ 30 minutes
“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life, bringing peace, abolishing strife.”
–Kahlil Gibran