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Some of those students will quit playing their instruments after a year or two - often because music conflicts with the child's need to place more emphasis on schooling - that school academics comes first.
This belief is dead wrong. In fact, music participation can benefit a struggling kid even MORE than his “average” or “smart” kid counterpart.

Here's the rationale

  1. Music teaches a rich array of skills and character developments that help kids succeed in other parts of school and life. Playing and practicing an instrument teaches vital organizational and productivity skills that quickly cross over into classroom work. It also teaches confidence, performance, grit, and peer collaboration.

  2. Music provides a community with other students during the school day. Struggling kids often get the sense that they don't "belong" in school. Band, orchestra and chorus give them a feeling of teamwork and kinship with a group that meets regularly. In fact, many kids cite that music is a key reason for wanting to attend school.

  3. Music is an engaging subject. Yes, playing an instrument is a lot of work, but it's fun work. Kids come into my classroom motivated and excited to learn more; that's the nature of the subject. Yet parents of struggling students who quit their instruments tell me, "She needs to focus more on her school work." If a student is focusing "too much" on music, wouldn't it make sense to celebrate that focus and try to apply it to other subjects? Don't cut off the only subject where she has learned to focus!

  4. Music kids get extra face time with teachers. Struggling kids always need more time with teachers who can light their fires of motivation and concentration. A student who studies music is seeing more teachers during the school day, which gives them more opportunities to get the extra attention they need.

  5. Music lessons create accountability across the board. There is no evidence that pulling kids out of regular school activities for lessons in any way interferes with their learning in other subjects. In fact, leaving the classroom and having to make up work later may actually help students take ownership of their education in other subjects. 

Kids who are especially creative often have less-organized (or "messy") minds (according to Scott Barry Kaufman's research on creativity) and don't do well in traditional school subjects, but thrive in music. In our current educational climate, with emphasis on core curriculum and testing, we are failing these students. We are failing them because their parents and non-music teachers see them struggling in school, and believe that the solution is to pare down their "non-essential" activities. As music is not considered essential to the core curriculum in most places, struggling students are encouraged to quit. But this is the exact opposite of what we should be doing for our most creative, messy-minded kids.

What you can do...

If you're the parent of a struggling child... sign him up for school music lessons and keep him in the program for at least a few years. You should see a marked improvement in your child's focus and retention in other subjects as a result of studying music.

If you're the teacher of a struggling student... do everything in your power to keep her motivated and involved with music. Keep lines of communication open between her classroom, music and special services teachers, and show the student that you care about how she is doing in all areas - including music

If you are or once were a struggling student who now thrives in music... share your story with others! Music is a vital educational component. By working together and sharing our success stories, we can show the world that music benefits everyone.