I have students who are clearly taking oboe as a sort of magic ticket to top universities (or even top high schools). Yep, it really can help. But not usually. You have to be very good. You can’t just tell them, “I play oboe,” and expect them to come racing to your door. Rarely do I have students going to the very top schools.

Hm. I cringe at typing “top schools” to be honest: just go out and get a good education! You can do that nearly anywhere. It is more up to a student, really, than the school. Work hard. Study. Learn. Take advantage of a university and explore. Being at a university gives you the opportunity to investigate more than just the one area you think you might pursue as a career.

That being said, I do have an oboe student this year who is going to a “top university”, and was accepted to more than one.

Guess what?

He worked very hard. He practiced carefully. He attended lessons regularly. And … drum roll please … he loved playing the oboe! That last one is what I desire so much. If students have a true passion for something they very often will excel. If they are learning something as a magic ticket and nothing else, it’s less likely.

I also hear about students taking music because it’s “good for math” or it helps “raise test scores.” I’ve now run across an article about that. Good stuff there! It begins:

Today I ran across one more xeroxed handout touting the test-taking benefits of music education, defending music as a great tool for raising test scores and making students smarter. It was just one more example among many of the “keep music because it helps with other things” pieces out there.

I really wish people would stop “defending” music education like this.

I get that music programs are under intense pressure, that all across America they are sitting hunched over with one nervous eye on a hooded figure stalking the halls with a big budgetary ax. Music programs are watching administrators race by, frantically chasing test scores and ignoring music in schools. So it may seem like a natural step to go running after the testing crowd hollering, “Hey, I can help with that, too.”

Don’t. Just don’t.

First of all, it’s a tactical error. If your state gets swept up in the winds of test dumpage and suddenly tests are not driving your school, what will you say to the ax guy (because, tests or not, the ax guy is not going away any time soon)? If your big selling point for your program has been that it’s actually test prep with a horn, you’ve made yourself dependent on the future of testing. That’s a bad horse on which to bet the farm.

Second, it’s just sad. And it’s extra sad to hear it come from music teachers. Just as sad as if I started telling everyone that reading Shakespeare is a great idea only because it helps with math class.

There are so many reasons for music education. Soooooooo many. And “it helps with testing” or “makes you do better in other classes” belong near the bottom of that list. Here are just a few items that should be further up the list.

So go read the article and think about it when you decide your children (or yourselves) must take music for some other purpose. Take music because you love it. Take music because it hits your heart. Take music because you can’t imagine not having a world with music. Take music because it gets into your very soul.

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