When one thinks of music education, there is a gamut of things that could come to mind. You could think of piano lessons when you were a kid, and the associated hours of practicing. You could think of some introductory instrument lessons offered in an elementary school. You could think of high school bands, college classes, on and on.
When asked to think about music education, one thing I hope is the case is that you were able to remember or think something about a musical education experience that you were actually involved in. Whether it seemed good or bad at the time, now think of what your life would have been like if there wasn't any music education experience at all. How would things have been different? If you haven't had any music instruction, this will be impossible to answer, but then ask yourself how things might have been different if you had?
As budgets are tightened, class sizes extended and educational curriculums strictly directed, the possibilities that music education experiences might simply disappear are growing more and more likely. So I ask you, what exactly is going to stimulate the other side of a young person's mind? In a world in which math and science are key, what is going to stimulate creativity? There must be more to life than constantly solving problems.
We know that the musical tastes for adults are set in concrete in the synapses in the brain in the early teen years. This is what causes the parents to not be able to understand their kid's music. On the other hand, it limits the scope of what a person will “ever” be able to truly appreciate. What if a child is only exposed to one kind of music ever? What if they never get the opportunity to experience the wide range of musical art forms that exist in the world? Well, it will certainly limit the experience through which the person will experience life. How else it might limit the person will depend on a wide variety of factors and is the subject of much research. Nevertheless, it certainly seems that there is generally considered to be great benefit to brain development through exposure to music of different styles.
I would also like to suggest that part of early music education should give the student the opportunity to create music themselves. I am not just talking about the opportunity to press notes on a keyboard, or blow a horn, I am talking about the opportunity to physically write music down on a piece of paper. Just as students are encouraged to draw what they see, students should be encouraged to write what they hear. Lessons could be very abstract or very structured. Both are important just as in the visual arts.
Music education should not be so structured as to turn a student solely into a machine that has the ability to churn out a piece of music fed into it. While the discipline of music education is critical, there needs to be a balance with a creative angle. As students are fed pieces of information on music structure, finger positions, etc., they should be asked to implement those same ideas in a creative way. Not only will this expand the mind even more, and accelerate learning of the concepts, it will remove some of the drudgery out of only practicing and practicing and practicing. Now the study experience involves practicing combined with creating. The teacher and student now have the opportunity to discuss the topics being learned through both the creative process and structure. This will lead to a new type of conversation which is not only stimulating but a refreshing departure from speaking only of discipline and a practice regimen.