Why is Music Important?

Did you know that music making is part of what makes humans human? Every culture makes music. Not only that, every past culture has made music too. Musical instruments are amongst the oldest man-made objects ever found. For example, there are flutes around 37,000 years old and perhaps even older!

Compare this with reading and writing. The earliest forms of writing are no more than about 3500 years old. And many cultures of the world still do not read or write.

Or how about this? Scientists have recently discovered that music affects many parts of our brain very deeply (grown-ups can look at the book This is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin to find out more). But you don’t need to be a scientist to understand that! Trying singing ‘Happy Birthday’ or a Christmas song and you will understand. What do these tunes make you think of? How do they make you feel? You’ll be filled with all sorts of memories and feelings when you hear these tunes—many more than would if you simply said the words ‘birthday’ or ‘Christmas’.

Music gets under your skin. It creates strong feelings. And it creates strong memories.

Music is a language. It is a language for all humans. It is a language that is there when normal language is of little use.

In November 2009 the UK remembered two important events. One was the passing of the generation of soldiers who fought in World War One. The other was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The first was very sad. The second was very happy. In both cases these events were remembered with music:

  1. The passing of the WW1 generation: A church service in Westminster Abbey, London.
  2. ‘For the Fallen’ sung by the choir of Westminster Abbey 11/11/09

  3. The fall of the Berlin Wall: A free concert by the rock band U2.

In fact there was music at the Berlin Wall on the very day it fell. On that day in 1989 people climbed onto the wall and burst into song! Nobody told them to sing. They just did it by themselves! Look at this picture to see for youself (click on the picture to see the singing more clearly):

Singing on the Berlin Wall in 1989

So why do these things happen? Why is there music at important occasions?

The answer is that music says things that cannot be said in words. We need music to say the things we cannot say any other way. If there is great joy, we need music. If there is great sadness, we need music. In fact, we need music whenever we have a great need to say something important (click here to read my own story).

So why is it important to learn about music?

Well, why is it important to learn to read and write? So we can communicate! The more we learn, the more we can say what we want to say. It’s the same with music. The more we learn about music, the more we will be able to say what we want to say in music. In other words, the more we learn about music, the more we will be able to say things that we cannot say in words. But that’s not all. The more we learn about music, the more we will also understand about what it means to be human.

Why is music especially important for kids?

Children’s brains are developing. Children’s brains are like sponges that soak up anything that’s going. That means children are much more ready to hear new things than adults. Many adults think that certain types of music (for example, heavy classical music) are not for children. In fact the opposite is often true. If an adult has not heard a particular type of music in childhood, then they will not normally like that music as an adult. This means they will ignore it. On the other hand, a child will just take in new music as yet another new experience in their lives.

In other words, the more types of music children hear, the more types of music they will like as adults. And the more types of music they like as adults, the more they will listen to. And the more types of music they will listen to, the more they will understand about the essential language of music itself!

Picture credits:
  1. Singing on the Berlin Wall in 1989. This photograph was taken on 10th November 1989 by Sue Ream of San Francisco, California, USA. This picture may be used freely providing one credits the photographer. Click here for the source of the image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. For The Fallen : Choir of Westminster Abbey. The Choir of Westminster Abbey sing the words of the Remembrance Day poem by Laurence Binyon, For The Fallen, to a setting by Douglas Guest. Taken from a service in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the passing of the last British veterans of World War One.

    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.