Monday, May 2, 2011

Discipline as the Reason for Music? Where we Went Wrong...

“Building Discipline, Motivation and Socialisation”


This article, which appeared in Orbit: OISE/UT’s Magazine for Schools (Chasins, 2000: 19-21) discusses the disciplinary benefits of music instruction. According to Chasins, the discipline that students acquire through private music lessons leads to future successes in various other dimensions, during that student’s life, and is a valuable skill. Specifically, the benefits have been noted from the students’ participation in private music classes or ensembles. These situations are important learning experiences that teach individuals social and personal disciplinary skills.

Discipline, in the case of this discourse, is not a behavioural consequence such as in the punitive sense, but rather a type of mental of physical training. It can be imposed from an external source, such as a teacher, conductor, or private-lesson instructor or it can be internal. Internal discipline is referred to as self-discipline, and it is the most productive, as it involves the subject making a choice to do something, as opposed to an outside disciplinarian forcing the action. Although external forces of discipline are required at times to correct problems or reinforce certain behaviours, they are best to be kept at minimum; excessive external discipline can reduce one’s development of self-discipline.

Chasins argues that music promotes the acquisition of students’ self-discipline and motivation for four main reasons:

    1. music, as a form of communication, evokes an emotional response in individuals of a variety of ages;
    2. music is made of logical structures of sound;
    3. music requires participation in an active way; and,
    4. music incorporates a plethora of potential group activities.

The melodic and rhythmic structure of music is always in motion, allowing it to captures and contain one’s attention, engaging the listener, actively. The engaging action of music is the element that facilitates a students’ development of discipline. Based on music’s ability to easily educe and hold one’s attention, it is more effective at teaching these skills, as compared to other subjects, and it requires little attention to rules or other contributing elements. As well, music can be understood across many cultures, making it a “universal language” (2000:19) that appeals to all ages and diversities. It is often possible to hear a story or narrative that is ‘told’ by a piece of music, making it attractive and interesting to many individuals, and promoting an intense focus. Many of the communicative properties of music build discipline.

The logical structures of sound that characterise music are: the finite length, which presents a clear goal to a student, and, the internal, musical structure of any song.

There are a variety of unique musical elements that combine to create any given musical work, which are suited to fit a multitude of learning styles, and allow a song to be deconstructed and learned in shorter components. These aspects of music provide many ways of teaching, creating a thorough learning experience for any student, and facilitate the development of disciplinary skills.

Throughout the remained of the article, Chasins describes the implications of music-learning on other subjects. Emphasis is placed on the disciplinary skills that are then used and applied, by students, in other areas of their educational career, and lives. Essentially, learning music requires one to tackle material of an appropriate technical difficulty, and then selecting the best method possible to learn the piece. Learning typically occurs through mastery of small sections of the music, which requires one’s application of self-discipline. With a students’ mastery over a section or piece of music comes a feeling of success and achievement, thus motivating the student to continue to learn and work. Skills of self-discipline are then transferrable to other scholarly subjects and daily situations, and optimally, the same form of success will result.

Music’s importance in its facilitating of disciplinary learning justify the inclusion of music instruction within a school-wide curriculum. Chasins notes: “on the basis of music’s capacity to enrich life through its intrinsic beauty, and on the beneficial effects on brain fuctions” (2000: 21), our schools and families should remain committed to the study of music, especially due to the recent evidence of its additional disciplinary benefits.


Although Chasins’ article contained several valid assessments of the benefits of music, I am disheartened to read yet another item which is dedicated to justifying the benefit of music based on its ability to teach another skill. While music does help to enhance the development of one’s self-discipline, I do not wish to have this be the only reason for its inclusion in our school curriculum. Rather, I argue that music should be taught in schools and in other extra-curricular settings for the benefit of learning music, and not for its ability to enhance another skill. As a music educator who is highly concerned with maintaining, and even increasing, the interest and importance of a strong school music program, I argue that the support towards music education is being misdirected. Our advocacy must be redirected and revised.

In a three-page article, Chasins referred to the “instrinsic beauty” (Ibid) of music, implying its teaching as a means to an end, only in the closing paragraph. Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow is referenced on the second page, briefly, but, it is done so to explain how one accomplishes goals. The rest of the article was spent pleading with readers over music’s potential to build discipline in students. This is not the original reason why people enjoy music and why music was created. Music was developed as a way to communicate, and to express human emotion through a means that is not possible in any other way. Such can be said for dance or art. These two artistic domains do not require justification over-and-above their intrinsic nature, yet often, we feel that music needs to be explained, and continue to do so to facilitate its inclusion in our schools.

As schools continue to make cutbacks within their music curriculum, it is apparent that these methods are proving unsuccessful. It is necessary that educators and advocates of music, alike, recognize music’s inherent potential and allow it to speak for itself: music for the sake of music should be the new direction in our rationale for the indispensability of school music.

Works Cited:

Chasins, Margaret. “Building Discipline, Motivation, and Socialisation.” Orbit: OISE/UT’s Magazine for Schools, Vol. 31 (1), 2000. 19-21.

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