by FIONA MACK '22
Some may argue that funding the arts in schools will only take away from seemingly more enriching classes such as math, science, or English. Others may believe that putting an arts class in a student’s schedule will take up time that could be used for an extra science class. While STEM classes are certainly essential to a school curriculum, arts classes provide life skills that are not taught in a typical math or science class. For example, these classes administer essential public speaking skills that are extremely useful from a career perspective and also allow a student to step out of their comfort zone.
While some may believe that skills such as critical thinking involve more brain power, playing an instrument uses every part of the brain. In the past few years of study, neuroscientists have found that activities such as solving a math problem or reading activate only the corresponding area of the brain, whereas listening to music activates all parts. This is understandable because the brain listens to the sound, takes it apart to understand the specific elements of the song, and then puts it back together to achieve the full experience of the music. If simply listening to music is able to activate all of the brain, actually playing a musical instrument engages the brain more intricately and in an extremely short amount of time. This information shows that playing an instrument, or even simply absorbing the music around you, stimulates parts of the brain that would otherwise not be engaged if school did not include music or arts classes in their curriculums.
Studies have also found that playing an instrument enlarges the brain. When scientists compared an experienced musician with a non-musician, they found that the non-musician had more gray matter in their brains than the experienced musician, even though the subjects shared the same age, gender, and IQ score. Not only does playing an instrument or listening to music enrich the brain, but it also has health benefits such as strengthening your immune system. Scientists found that these musical activities increased the production of immunoglobulin A, which is a cell that boosts the immune system’s effectiveness.
Music can also help reduce stress by lowering the hormone cortisol and can also be a form of pain relief. In a 2013 study, University of Alberta researchers found that pediatric emergency room patients who listened to soothing music while an IV was being inserted reported considerably less pain than those without the relaxing music. These studies show how important music is and how it can be used as a tool in daily life, also mixing STEM with music in a career field.
Performing arts also provide a break from a day filled with rigorous STEM classes. While some may argue that athletics can provide this break, and on top of that bring in more money, the arts provide many different opportunities making it more inclusive for students to participate in whether they are interested in music, acting, dancing, technical theater work, or all four. Performing arts allows students to express themselves in ways other than words. Playing an instrument, acting in a play, singing, dancing, and many more activities involving the arts can help students to express emotions, a trait that a math class would not be able to provide in such a meaningful way.
Being able to clearly express one’s emotions is also extremely beneficial in a social environment. People who are experienced in music also have an enhanced emotional perception by being able to better process vocal emotion. A study involving two tests, one to test emotional intelligence and the other requiring the participants to listen to classical music and try to identify the emotions of the music, found that the ability to manage personal emotions use the same devices as being alert to emotion in music. Studies similar to this and many more show how music and the arts enhance lives in so many different ways. These valuable lessons and traits that can be obtained from participating in the performing arts at school show that these classes should be funded and supported in schools to better enrich student lives around the world.
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