"Everything that you need to know about being a responsible member of society can be learned in an orchestra (or band)." Jose Antonio Abreu is the founder of Venezuela's El Sistema, a state foundation overseeing and enabling 125 youth orchestras and youth training programs. Maestro Abreu says the El Sistema is, "a social program, but we use music to get there. In their essence the orchestra and the choir are much more than artistic structures. They are examples and schools of social life, because to sing and to play together means to intimately coexist toward perfection and excellence. This is why music is immensely important in the awakening of sensibility and in the forging of values."

The benefits of music are numerous and well documented. Having begun with the larger social picture let's take a step back and begin with the benefits that music can have on the individual and end with a more thorough overview of the benefits that music can bestow on the world at large.

Music and the Brain

  • The world's top academic countries place a high value on music education.
  • Recent studies show that students who study the arts are more successful on standardized tests such as the SAT (both verbal and math). They also achieve higher grades in high school.
  • Music majors are the most likely group of college grads to be admitted to medical school.
  • Researchers probing the inner workings of the brain have found neural firing patterns that bear a remarkable resemblance to music – suggesting that music may hold the key to higher brain function.
  • The Mozart Effect – adults who listen to classical music daily experience increases in spatial IQ scores.
  • Music lessons increase the ability to hear speech in noisy environments and lessen the development of dyslexia.
  • Music lessons help children to become well-rounded individuals.
  • Playing the piano (or other instrument) can boost one's self esteem.

Music and Linguistics

  • Music lessons yield larger vocabulary and better reading skills.
  • Music training has a profound impact on other skills including speech and language, memory and attention and even the ability to convey emotions verbally.
  • Early musical training helps develop brain areas involved in language and reasoning. It is thought that brain development continues for many years after birth. Recent studies clearly indicate that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain's circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds.
  • Music tones the brain for auditory fitness. Playing an instrument trains the human ear to hear pitches and tones in relation to one another.

Music and Creativity

  • Students of the arts learn to think creatively and to solve problems through various solutions. Questions about the arts generally have more than one correct answer.
  • Music helps with concentration. Reading music takes a great deal of focus, causing a person to interpret a note and a rhythm then translate it into hand movements and then immediately go on to the next note/chord. This is critical to creative thinking.

Music and Coordination

  • There is also a causal link between music and spatial intelligence (the ability to perceive the world accurately and to form mental pictures of things). This kind of intelligence, by which one can visualize various elements that go together, is critical to the sort of thinking necessary for solving everything from packing a back-pack to advanced mathematics.
  • Sight reading offers the brain a workout, as the eyes must follow the music while the hands play it.
  • Playing music helps kids develop coordination, specifically, hand-eye coordination. In order to play an instrument your hands must develop independent coordination. This helps sharpen the nervous system and keeps the brain developing.

Music and the Body

  • Premature infants exposed to thirty minutes of classical music daily can grow far more rapidly than premature babies not exposed to classical music.
  • Music performance teaches people to conquer fear and to take risks. A little anxiety is a good thing, and something that occurs often in life. Dealing with it from an early age makes it less of a problem later. Risk-taking is essential for a child to fully develop to his or her potential. Music contributes to mental health and can also prevent risky behavior such as teenage drug abuse.
  • Music education is good for your health. College-age musicians are emotionally healthier than their non-musician counterparts. In a study measuring performance anxiety, emotional concerns and alcohol related problems they not only have fewer battles with the bottle but are on surer footing when facing tests. (Houston Chronicle, 1/11/98)
  • Listening to one hour of classical, Celtic or Indian music a day for four days a week can significantly reduce blood pressure in people suffering from hypertension.
  • Every recital is a culmination of hours of hard work. Recitals are nerve wracking but like most things, they are worth it. The adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment makes the whole process worthwhile. The achievement of the final performance offers all of the equivalent benefits of a sports championship.

Music and the Soul

  • Music is more powerful and goes deeper than the uplifting effect it has on one's spirit. Music can be used to communicate emotion, enliven a gathering or just relax.
  • Music provides children with a means of self-expression. With a relative security in the basics of existence, the challenge is now to make life more meaningful and to reach for a higher stage of development. Everyone needs to be in touch at some time in his life with his core, with what he is and what he feels. Self-esteem is a by-product of this self-expression.
  • An arts education exposes children to the incomparable.
  • People engaged in music education are challenged through the hard work, self satisfaction, skill building and teamwork, orchestra and ensemble playing.
  • When playing music with others, you are sharing a connection that goes very deep and without words. Verbal communication can have limitations. There are no words for the feeling in the music.

Music and the World

  • A study of the arts provides children with an internal glimpse of other cultures and teaches them to be empathetic towards the people of these cultures. This development of compassion and empathy, as opposed to development of greed and a "me first" attitude, provides a bridge across cultural chasms that leads to respect of other races at an early age.
  • Music study enhances teamwork skills and discipline. In order for an orchestra to sound good, all players must work together harmoniously towards a single goal, the performance. One must commit to learning music, attending rehearsals, and practicing.
  • Music study develops skills that are necessary in the workplace. It focuses on "doing," as opposed to "observing", and teaches students how to perform, literally, anywhere in the world. Employers are looking for multi-dimensional workers with the sort of flexible and supple intellects that music education develops. In the music classroom, students can also learn to better communicate and cooperate with one another.
  • Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development, in the highest sense because it transmits the highest values – solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community, and to express sublime feelings. (Joes Antonio Abreu)
  • Music lessons teach a lot about discipline and dedication and the rewards of hard work.
  • In music, a mistake is a mistake; the instrument is in tune or not, the notes are well played or not, the entrance is made or not. It is only by much hard work that a successful performance is possible. Through music study, students learn the value of sustained effort to achieve excellence and the concrete rewards of hard work.
  • Students of music learn craftsmanship as they study how details are put together and what constitutes good, as opposed to mediocre, work. These standards, when applied to a student's own work, demand a new level of excellence and require students to stretch their inner resources.

Music and Social Transformation

The following are some quotes from a wonderful book by Tricia Turnstall's with the title of, Changing Lives, Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema and the Transformative Power of Music.We recommend this book to anyone interested in further reading on this subject.

  • In the Sistema everything is connected; the musical and social aspects of playing music are never separated. Playing music together is connected with being a better citizen, with caring about other people and working together. The orchestra is a community. It's a little world where you can create harmony. When you have this connection with an artistic community, everything is possible.
  • An orchestra is first and foremost a way to encourage better human development. Here is the seminal development at the heart of the Sistema story: the transmutation of Abreu's initial musical mission into a humanistic vision of social transformation through music.
  • What we are really working on is self esteem. When the children play together with everyone, they feel they have a place. They feel valuable.
  • We try to identify what each child can do and develop that. Handicaps are put aside. Every human being has talent and potential. Every human being has capacity to grow. The soul does not have special needs. The soul is whole.
  • Playing music increases social participation. When you play in the presence of others, you are participating in a valuable social exercise. you have the ability to make others' time more enjoyable.
  • Here in the United States we think that we have to choose between a career in the arts and a career in the business world. We mistakenly feel that if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to sacrifice your artistic goals. But in El Sistema those two kinds of energy seem to be integrated, recognizing the use of creativity in every aspect of work.
  • The promise that music holds for children and adolescents can serve as a beacon and a goal for a vast social mission – no longer putting society at the service of the art, but instead art at the service of the society.