What role does music education play in students’ opinions of school? Research from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland found that more music classes dispose students to think favorably of their school experiences. The study focused on students who took “extended music classes,” a four hours-per-week time to participate in music, and students who took “comparison classes,” which only offers one hour-per-week of involvement in music. Extended music education is one of the few parts of the Finnish education system that selects on students ability—their aptitude for music—compared to the equitable nature of the rest of the school system.

The researchers surveyed 1,000 students in Year 3 (ages 9-10) and Year 6 (ages 12-13) across 10 Finnish schools. Students were either enrolled in extended music education or comparison classes. No differences were observed in views about school for students in Year 3, but by Year 6, major differences had emerged: the students in the extended music classes reported greater general satisfaction, more opportunities for achievement, stronger class identity, and improved classroom climate. The researchers explain that this is most likely explained by participation in the extended music classes. However, another possible explanation for these results is that more girls are enrolled in extended music classes. Girls tend to be more positive about school satisfaction than boys.

Doctoral student and principal investigator Päivi-Sisko Eerola explained that the Finnish education system is unique, so it was necessary for them to conduct their own research to analyze the impact of music education on Finnish students. She went on to comment, “Singing in a choir and ensemble performance are popular activities at extended music classes. Other studies have established that people find it very satisfying to synchronize with one another. That increases affiliation within the group and may even make people like each other more than before.”

Essentially, students benefit from feeling bonded to their peers and music is one way to induce camaraderie. Erola stated that making music as a group could be worked into the national curriculum for the benefit of all students. The study suggests that students can benefit from having a few hours weekly for self-expression at school. It may be beneficial for students in any country to participate in music or other creative pursuits while in school, especially for teens.

This research is published in the journal Music Education Research.

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