Two Views of Music Education

This afternoon I came across two articles on the same parenting blog (but by different authors) expressing views about the value of private lessons. Given my current vocation, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. These views are worlds apart, but are very representative of many people I speak with on a daily basis. I’ll provide the links to the articles, followed by some brief comments:

The High Cost of Music

The type of argument this mother uses is typical of a lot of parents, though I haven’t encountered something quite this extreme in my personal experience. Besides some faulty statistics (there are VERY few private music teachers with  40 teaching hours a week, and I think her “going rate” numbers are probably not accurate for beginning lessons anywhere… and certainly not around here), there are some major problems with her line of thinking which are commonly shared, even by many parents for whom money is no object.

First, the idea that whether a student ought to continue after the first few lessons depends on whether or not she “practices on her own, and shows some talent and dedication.” This is putting way too much of the responsibility on the child, especially if she’s a young child. Music education is inherently beneficial, regardless of the level of innate “talent” a student may have. Countless research studies back this up. It is primarily the parents’ responsibility to instill in their children the work ethic to be dedicated to a task and to practice diligently. Eventually students will learn to practice on their own, but with a few rare exceptions, they need a parent’s guidance and accountability (and modeling) to make the most of whatever level of talent they possess.

Second, that cost alone is the primary factor in who instructs a child. Our school (which is VERY reasonably priced) has a very high standard for our teachers, both musically and personally. It really does matter who teaches your child, and we are honored when parents feel they can trust us with their child’s education. “Any sidewalk musician” is not necessarily qualified nor trustworthy enough to teach a child anything, any more than any other person you might encounter on the street is someone you’d want to leave your child with for any other purpose. Parents have a responsibility to screen and trust the ability and character of their children’s teachers, no matter the subject matter.

Finally, and perhaps most disappointing, is the “me-first” attitude of this mother. While she may have been speaking tongue-in-cheek when she joked about the high-priced haircuts she might have to sacrifice for the sake of finding a quality instructor for her daughter, I’ve found that this is a very common sentiment. So many parents are unwilling to sacrifice their own personal comforts for the sake of their children. Taken to its extreme, this sentiment is one of the main reasons more and more people choose not to even have any children. When I meet parents who could easily afford lessons at our school (which costs around half of this mother’s “going rate”) who pass simply because it means they might have to give up a cruise (or any other luxury) at some point, it makes me grieve for their children. (Of course, this is not meant to discount those who really can’t afford music lessons. Music is important but it’s not at the top of anyone’s priority list, nor should it be. Our School of Performing Arts offers financial aid, and works hard to make sure that no one is deprived of the opportunity for lessons based purely on finances.)

The Vital Need for Music Education

On the flip side, here’s a mom who really gets it! I am so blessed to work in a place where, for every parent I meet who sounds like the mom above, there are ten more who really do value a great music education, and value their children enough to sacrifice for their ability to obtain it.

My parents certainly sacrificed for my ability to take lessons. Even though I work in a music-related field, my particular job requires a ton of skills that are of a completely non-musical nature. But my work ethic, my ability to communicate effectively and civilly with people from any walk of life, my ability to juggle inconsistent schedules, my punctuality, and nearly everything else that I do well (not to mention my full-ride college scholarship), I attribute to my many years of music lessons.

I am thankful to know so many tremendous parents who realize that their children don’t have to become prodigies to find success and enjoyment in music education. They know how truly valuable it is, and freely sacrifice their time, their desires, their personal comforts, their money, and occasionally their sanity (those first few weeks of scratchy strings can be tough to endure!) to provide music lessons with mature, responsible, talented music educators. The true payoff may take decades, but it will always be worth it!

Further reading you may find interesting: The Creativity Crisis

One comment on “Two Views of Music Education

  1. John Gardner says:

    John, you probably don’t remember this incident, but I do distinctly. We were sitting in Mr. Severs’ driveway and I was writing out a check for your hour long lesson and said to you, “I am paying for your college education one week at a time. By the time you get ready to go to college, that college should be willing to pay for you.” IT WORKED! -dad

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