Letter: Music lessons are for art's sake

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Dear Sir: I was interested to read about the Swiss research which confirms what many of us in the trade know through experience - that music lessons can boost a child's reading ability and language development ("Look, listen and learn", 29 August).

But if those who are trying to promote music in schools seize on this "transfer effect" as evidence for the value of music in the curriculum, they are falling into the age-old trap of utilitarianism. They should instead concentrate on the fact that musical activity - the handling of non-verbal sounds in time - is a unique form of human experience, a unique way of knowing and of expression.

As music therapists can tell us, music gets through to both young and old when other channels of communication are blocked. All children, and not merely those who are "gifted", benefit from musical experiences.

If music and the other expressive arts are elbowed out of the curriculum in the political clamour for more time for the 3Rs and science, we shall be educating a generation of young people who are using, literally, only part of their brains.

Teachers need to encourage children to think not only logically, but laterally and imaginatively as well. That wider mode of thinking will stand them in good stead in adulthood, whatever their job.


Former Head of Music, Homerton College, Cambridge