The value of music education - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

The value of music education

Written by on December 14, 2015 in Learning, Young People with 0 Comments

imagesHave you ever noticed how much really young children love to sing? Quite naturally and unselfconsciously, and without any prompting, they’ll just break out in a tune, either some rhyming ditty they’ve learnt at kindy or a melody they’ve made up. I see this in my own Godchildren, aged four and two, whose warbling duets after they’ve been tucked in at night delight me no end.

So it follows that this most instinctive of urges should be nurtured from a very young age, not just at home but in the classroom where if kids are lucky they’ll have a teacher like Richard Gill, renowned and beloved Australian conductor and music educator whose work in developing young musicians is recognised worldwide. Gill, who presented at Mind & Its Potential 2014 and is back next April to speak at Happiness & Its Causes, is waxing lyrical here on what he considers to be music’s “extraordinary power” to change young lives no matter what the circumstance.

Having defined music “as sound organised in some way passing through time”, Gill shares some of his modus operandi in the classroom. The first step, he says, is to engage little kids in imitation, asking them to repeat back patterns of clapping, for example. “When you do that with children, you’re engaging them in their first aural experience. They need to listen, and as a result of the listening, they repeat and it requires focus … Repetition and putting them in the circumstance of offering ideas is vital.”

Gill describes music as abstract in that it “does not describe, music does not narrate, it does not tell stories. Music evokes, music suggests, music implies and opens up the mind of a child in an extraordinary way.” To elaborate further on this point, Gill asks us to consider three pieces of music with titles that allude to the night: Clair de Lune by Debussy, A Little Night Music by Mozart and Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. Yet, as he says, “they have nothing to do with the night whatsoever. The title is simply a way in.” In other words, “this abstraction about music is what offers a child the chance to move into a really special world of thinking.”

Gill says as well as reproducing music, children should be strongly encouraged to make their own and the best way to do this is through singing. “Every child given normal circumstances has the capacity to sing. Through singing is how we engage every child, through singing is how we teach children to be literate, to read and write. Through singing is how we teach children to analyse.”

Wearing his bias somewhat on his sleeve, Gills proclaims, “with music, you open up the mind of a child in a very special way, different from dance and visual arts. There was a movement which said all the arts work in the same way, in the 1960s. That’s simply not true. The arts function in different ways and music is at the top of the food chain.

“What I want to say is that the power of the creative thought transferred from music to all other areas of learning is hugely potent. Music is worth teaching for its own sake because it’s good, because it’s unique, because it empowers children spectacularly and when you get a 5th grade boy who comes up with a piece of music and says, ‘look, I made this myself’, you know it’s working.”


Richard Gill OAM is a renowned and beloved Australian conductor and music educator whose work in developing young musicians is recognised worldwide. Gill will be presenting at Happiness & Its Causes 2016. To register, click here.


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