On Jan 3, 2023, Bigger Better Brains and I started a campaign we called “This is a not a…” campaign.
At the essence of the campaign is the idea that music learning is not just learning music, but learning how to learn. We started with an iconic instrument, the violin, and challenged the viewer to the idea that this was not JUST a violin, but a tool for cognitive enhancement.
Now I did not include the word “just” in the image originally, and maybe I should have, because it is more faithful to what I, and my work through BBB, believes. The first two “This is not a …” cards have inspired some fantastic edits, and in response to this we have decided to make two versions of each card. The hard-hitting version “This is not a” card might be good to get the attention of some members of your community who have yet to engage with you about the wonders of music learning.
The inclusive version “This is not just a” includes the word also in the first line and may sit better with your community and/or your personal beliefs about music learning. And maybe these cards and this sentiment is just not for you, that is ok, we strive to broaden the thinking of your communities around music learning, but you are the experts and you know what your communities will respond best to.
Learning music for children has two equally valuable outcomes in my view. It is a vehicle for a child to appreciate and value the making of music for all of its joy and creativity as an art form. It is also a vehicle to improve our cognitive capacity and establish robust and healthy foundations for our brain function and health throughout the lifespan.
The first step in the campaign has attracted the variety of responses that I expected. A lot of shares, a lot of likes, some detailed and supportive comments of how this approach will be helpful when explaining the many reasons why music learning is a valuable educational experience for every child, and a few people asking why we need to justify music learning with any other reason than it is a powerful and wonderful art form.
I have long wondered why we struggle to value music learning for more than one reason, one dominant narrative. Now I am researcher and have been an academic and I have read and cited much of the history and theory that sits under these two narratives – music for music’s sake and music is service of what it does for learning and development. So I don’t come at this question lightly, and as always I am still exploring this question.
To me both narratives are important, worthwhile and valuable. Yet in my experience, depending on the life experiences and personal lens of the person I am speaking to, one narrative promotes greater understanding and even action than the other.
If the person I am talking to has had no meaningful or moving experience with making music, if they never had the opportunity to or were encouraged to learn music, then it is more than likely that the music for music’s sake narrative will not move the dial for them. But joining the dots for them about the ways learning a violin enhances cognitive connectivity and how that might impact on their ability to learn, that might move the needle a bit more.
And maybe, just maybe, after lots of discussions and even maybe a group music making experience in their staff meeting, they might get a glimpse into how powerful music making can be from a sensory and creative level. For me the cognitive argument opening the door to the musical experience.
If the person I am talking to has a wealth of music making experiences, and has even chosen music making and learning as their life’s work, then they are immersed in the music for music’s sake narrative. But there is a danger for anyone who is immersed in an artistic field, or a sporting field, or a field of business, that we forget that our experiences are not everyone’s experiences. Sometimes that hampers the ability to explain to someone else, who has no experience of your field, what it is like, or what the benefits are, to being in your field.
The more I explore how people, young and old, musical or non-musically experienced, understand the world of music learning, the more I find that music is fortunate. We have these two equally important narratives, supported by research with the potential to be expressed in so many ways, that can help others understand the value of music learning for every person. Imagine if more people around the world had a deeper understanding of the many reasons why music learning is so impactful, how would our world be changed, and maybe be better?