An Argument For School and Community Music

An Argument For School and Community Music

           As a full-time performing musician and music teacher I encounter many different points of view in my daily life and work experience as to the value of music and whether it is an essential need in our country’s school curriculums and communities.  In what follows, I argue that music is both an essential part of a well-rounded education as well as an important community activity that can greatly increase the overall happiness and quality of life of the individuals who partake in it.

           In order to make this argument, first I will put forth a definition of happiness.  According to Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness, one of the main contributors to human happiness is the development of virtue.  “The human virtues, to be capitalized on in attaining authentic happiness include wisdom and knowledge; courage, love and humanity; justice, temperance, and spirituality-transcendence(Seligmanquoted in Wellik and Hoover, 2004, p. 59). In part three of Seligman’s book, he talks about “eudaimonia,” which is a state of persistent happiness.  Seligman states that this condition can only exist when an individual engages in “activity consistent with noble purposes.  In a nutshell, when we focus on causes outside ourselves that benefit humankind and utilize our unique signature strengths, we transcend to higher and higher planes of authentic happiness”(Wellik and Hoover, 2004, p. 60).

           The practice of music contains both “musical values” and “extra-musical values” that are associated with music performance and being part of a musical ensemble, which help achieve Seligman’s goals of authentic happiness.  These can be defined as valuables that come directly from the act of engaging with the music and those that arise indirectly from performing and creating music.

Within the musical realm there is the building of musical skill itself through rehearsal and repetition of musical passages.  The practice of building musical skill seems to engage a person in the kinds of activities that Seligman proposes help oneachieve happiness, which are activities that cause us to focus on things outside of ourselves (creation and performance).  In addition to gaining physical and mental skills that are directly musical, someone engaged in the act of music can achieve a state of “flow,” a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professional psychologist, to mean “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009, p. 4).  Wellik and Hoover state, “clearly, readers will recognize the similarities between Seligman’s ideas and Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) notion of flow (well worth reclaiming readers’ time) and Maslow’s “peak experiences” (Wellik and Hoover, 2004, p. 59). Musical problem solving inherent in creation and performance seems to take us outside of our own personal problems and get us to focus in the moment on something that will last eternally for consumption by others.

In between the bounds of both musical and extra-musical values, there is the practice of music as a means of self-expression and self-awareness.  Not inherent exclusively to music, these values can be achieved in all art forms. According to Bennett Reimer, “consequences of musical experience, in addition to the sheer pleasure and fulfillment brought about by creating and sharing musical sounds, include the sense of deepened individuality it yields, the societal beliefs it enables to be embodied and shared, the breadth and depth of feelings it adds to our inner lives, the awareness we gain of both the universality and cultural specificity of the human condition, the dimension of depth (or “specialness”) it adds to our experience of life, [and] the fulfillment of an inborn capacity to create and share the meanings expressive sounds afford…” (Reimer, 2002, p.4).  According to Kwasi Enin, a 17-year old from Long Island, who was accepted into all eight Ivy-League universities, “music became the spark of his intellectual curiosity” (Ehnes, 2014, p. 2).

Moving toward extra-musical values, the development of one’s own personal methodology and approach to practice, rehearsal, and creation also helps someone along his or her path to “esteem” and “self-actualization,” which are part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  According to Saul McLeod, as each individual is unique, the motivation for self-actualization leads people in different directions (Kenrick et al., 2010).  For some people self-actualization can be achieved through creating works of art or literature, for others through sport, in the classroom, or within a corporate setting”  (McLeod, 2017, p. 6). Music is clearly an art form in which one can work towards achieving self-actualization through creation and performance.

Also within the “extra-musical” realm there is the element of “community-building” in music performance both within the classroom and within community music settings in which a group of musicians is rehearsing and performing the music.  Seligman examines“secure attachment” and “feeling positive emotion and expressing it”  (Wellik and Hoover, 2004). “Belonging” isafoundationalneedin the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchyof needs(McLeod, 2017).  Even if we don’t invoke Seligman or Maslow it seems obvious that itisimportant to feel like one belongs to something.  Certainly, being a member of a musical group gives one a sense of belonging within that group.

Another extra-musical value is that the practice of and achievement of musical skill can result in eventual monetary gain for students as they embark on careers as music educators, live performers, and composers.  This is also another means of achieving many of the layers of Maslow’s Hierarchy, including “self-actualization,” “esteem,” “belonging and love,” and obviously, “safety” and “physiological needs.”

In conclusion, there are many reasons why music education is important and essential in our schools, and the most important one is that music can be shown to be a practice that greatly adds to human happiness while satisfying many human needs.   If we revisit Seligman’s virtues of happiness, we can see that the practice of music aids in the attainment of many of those virtues mentioned. To me, all of the benefits discussed, and especially the attainment of happiness are excellent reasons for including it in our education curriculum and in community practice.


  1. Wellik, J. J. and Hoover, J. H., (Spring 2004).  Authentic Happiness [Review of the book Authentic Happiness, by M. Seligman.  Reclaiming Children and Youth, pp. 59-60, Retrieved from
  2. McLeod, S. (2017) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from
  3. Kenrick, D. T., Neuberg, S. L., Griskevicius, V., Becker, D. V., & Schaller, M. (2010). Goal-Driven Cognition and Functional Behavior The Fundamental-Motives Framework.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 63-67.
  4. Reimer, B.  (Spring, 2002).  Why Do Humans Value Music?  Philosophy of Music Education Review 10, no. 1.  Retrieved from


  1.  Ehnes, J. (April 18, 2014).  The Value of Music. Huffington Post.  Retrived from
  2. Csikszentmihalyi, M.  (2009). Flow:The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  New York, NY: Harper Collins.


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