Schools across the country are scrapping music lessons in favour of mental health counselling l as they try to survive appalling budget cuts and at the same time address the sharp rise in mental health concerns amongst children. And yet, music education provides an incredible opportunity to prevent mental health difficulties, making it counterintuitive and dangerous to force schools to shut down their music departments.
The benefits of music in schools are well documented. We know that music education improves children's ability to learn other subjects in schools, enhances their social skills and increases their confidence. But music doesn't just improve learning. It's effect on children's mental health is startling, too.
A growing body of research has begun to reveal some astounding benefits of music on children's short term and long term wellbeing. Composer Eric Whitacre mentioned some of these in a recent interview, where he explains that bringing children together to sing actually lowers the stress hormone Cortisol and releases endorphins which in turn bolsters children's immune systems. Playing a musical instrument can also reduce anxiety in children - playing a violin, for example, could be more effective than medication in helping children with psychological disorders. This is a hugely significant discovery, especially when considering the enormous cost to the government of mental health support for children.
However, not all music is designed to support child development and protect their mental health, so specific kinds and types of music are important when building a curriculum for children in schools.
Having worked for five years in the field of child and adolescent psychology, I saw first hand, over and over again, the extraordinary impact both positive and negative, of music on children. I saw how quickly violent and sexual lyrics could accelerate negative emotion and the aggression that can, and often does, ensue. Children are exposed to these sorts of lyrics alarmingly early and I felt increasingly that there seemed to be no real alternative for these kids.
That's why I decided to start Zeamu Music. As a mother of three children under ten, it dawned on me through extensive google searches that there were no original songs to bridge the gap between nursery rhymes and mainstream pop. Nothing that children could really identify with or hope to have a frame of reference for. No music that acknowledged the struggles of childhood, whilst offering a safe release for children's emotions. I wanted to be able to empower children and give them their own space in which to find themselves and to grow strong in an increasingly raw and fast paced world. That's why The Zeamus sing about childhood milestones and memories, songs we can all identify with and perhaps would have been glad of ourselves as children struggling to cope with our changing bodies and brains.
The benefits of music on kids cannot be underestimated. More and more studies highlight the correlation between exposure to music and achievement in a wide range of spheres; academic, social and emotional. Through music, children often find an outlet for emotional content that they are unable to verbalise. It is a cathartic, healing and joyful means of expression. And it's a resource the government should be using to its fullest to tackle mental health issues, online abuse and bullying.
Music is a powerful ally in the fight to protect children from damaging experiences which can affect them well into adulthood. Stripping schools of their music departments misses a golden opportunity to prevent a mental health crisis - let's champion this incredible subject and bring it back to the classroom.