Music has been present in every culture known to mankind; it is referenced in ancient writings, it has persisted throughout time, and it exists all over the world. We can all agree that it plays an important role in the human experience. But why do we need it? Many people struggle to answer this question and for good reason; music means different things to different people, and different individuals have different aesthetic needs. Either way, the answer is neither simple nor straightforward.
The following list highlights some of the reasons why I think we need music. A 3000-year-old question
answered in 3 steps, imagine that!
Three reasons why we need music
2. Economic impact of Music
We need music because music is an important part of the economy. I know that runs contrary to everyone’s image of the “starving artist,” but music has an enormously large economic impact, and without it businesses, governments, and workers would suffer.
When we view our own experience with music, we can see the sensibility in Mursell’s assertion. We do not go to a concert to improve our health, monetary situation, or degree status. We go because we want to go; we want to experience music because we enjoy it.
The nonprofit arts industry “generates $135 billion in economic activity annually that supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue.”2 Furthermore, “the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the arts and culture sector represents 3.25 percent of the nation’s GDP – a larger share of the economy than tourism and agriculture.”3 In the city of Bloomington Indiana alone, nonprofit arts organizations generate $72.3 million in economic activity, support 3,430 full-time equivalent jobs, and generate $5.2 million for state and local governments.4
1. Music for Music’s Sake
This argument asserts that we don’t really need an excuse to appreciate music, and that our love for the art form is an inherent trait of the human condition. James L. Mursell, a music education scholar, can say it much better than I can. He writes, “Music is one of the most universal human needs. The impulse to create and enjoy it exists among men everywhere, and has existed always. The part that it has played in our Western culture is enormous. It needs no manner of excuse for its existence…Nothing but a fundamental change in human nature itself can impair its essential appeal. ”1 In other words, music represents a primordial creative impulse that all people possess, and to repress that impulse is to repress your own humanity. We are hardwired to express ourselves creatively!
But the economic impact of music is not limited to just practicioners; everyone benefits when the arts thrive. Americans for the Arts found that a “typical arts attendee spends $24.60 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission.”5 This means that when a person attends a concert, they spend on average $24.60 on various things not related to the event - dinner, parking, hotel, etc. Music benefits the local economy in profound ways, making an investment in the arts an investment in the community!
Olive Emil Wetter’s case study in Bern, Switzerland found “a significant association between continuous musical training and general intellectual performance at school for children between 9 and 12 years of age.”8 Furthermore, Schellenberg’s study revealed that “after 1 year of musical training, a slightly larger increase of full-scale IQ was observed (in the music group) than in the control group.”9
3. Educational Benefits of Music
Music has a profoundly positive effect on academic achievement. According to Americans for the Arts, “Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower drop-out rates.”6 Furthermore, high school students with four years of music or art instruction scored 100 points higher on their SATs than those students with just a half year of instruction.7
In an age where everyone seems to be worried about the quality of education for our youth, we should not forget the important educational benefits of music.
1 - James L. Murcell, “We Need Music” MENC: The National Association for Music Education, 19, no. 2 (1932): 10
2 - “10 Reasons to Support the Arts,” Americans for the Arts, 2015
3 - Ibid
4 - Americans for the Arts, Arts & Economic Prosperity IV in the City of Bloomington, IN (Washington, DC: Americans for the Arts, (2012), 23.
5 - Robert L. Lynch, “The Arts Mean Business,” in Arts & Economic Prosperity IV in Greater Syracuse Area, NY (Washington, DC: Americans for the Arts, 2012).
6 - “10 reasons to support the arts” (see full citation above)
7 - Ibid.
8 - Olive Emil Wetter, et. Al. “Does Musical Training Improve School Performance?.” Instructional Science, 37, no. 4 (July 2009): 370
9 - Ibid.
I believe it is essential for musicians to be able to articulate some of the reasons why people need music. There will be moments in your career where you will have to justify what you do, and you need to be prepared for such circumstances. Take these reasons, come up with some of your own, and put them into action!