The benefits of musicianship in a holistic education

Nan Bahr, September 1, 2019

It occurs to me that I have not ever discussed the importance of music making and music learning for a positive education. As a longstanding tubist (tuba player official term), I strongly believe in the power of music engagement and learning for an excellent holistic education. It is clear to me that musicianship is a protective factor for people, preventing them from negative long term life affect by providing a ready tool for resilience and social connection.

As an early career academic I explored the relationships between musicianship and mathematical knowledge (Bahr & Christensen, 2000). I found that trained musicians demonstrated enhanced cognition for spatial and pattern recognition which was handy for improving some specific mathematical capabilities. The reverse didn’t appear to be true, that is, a strong mathematician was not necessarily more able as a musician. The potential explanation was that musicianship requires other things such as dexterity (depending on the performance instrument), a musical ear, a sense of rhythm and so forth. The lack of these things precluded someone from being a strong musician, but did not feature in the requirements for mathematical capability. The research basically demonstrated that there appears to be an overlap of music and mathematics knowledge domains. So it may well be that training as a musician could be the magic bullet for improvements in outcomes for STEM! Exciting work, but not quite what I mean by considering how music engagement and learning contribute to a positive and holistic education.

Music provides connection for emotional relief and release. Being a member of an ensemble provides individuals with a team, a purpose, a shared experience that is emotive but not confronting. For the shy child, joining an ensemble provides them with a connection with other students without the same anxieties. And so just engaging in a musical experience can change the social opportunities for children.

Musicians have skills that can be carried with them across their lifespan and enable them to meet and share with others in a unique way. In the school years, music provides an identity, a social group, and a social life. This can be extremely powerful for adolescents who are at a point in their development where identity, social acceptance, and emotional release are so important (Bahr, 2010; Bahr & Pendergast, 2007). And then there are the benefits of simply appreciating music, of listening and immersing oneself in a musical experience. An education that values and allows students to listen and appreciate music is providing them with a therapeutic experience that can be very soothing.

This is quite a shopping list of benefits.


Bahr, Nan (2010). The Middle Years Learner. In Pendergast, Donna & Bahr, Nan (Eds.) Teaching Middle Years : Rethinking Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment [2nd ed.]. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, N.S.W., pp. 50-67.

Bahr, Nan & Christensen, C.A. (2000). Inter-domain transfer between mathematical skill and musicianship. Journal of Structural Learning and Intelligent Systems, 14(3), pp. 187-197.

Bahr, Nan & Pendergast, Donna (2007). The millennial adolescent. Australian Council for Education Research, Camberwell, Victoria.

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