Years of research confirms the importance of music in improving kids’ success in school and in their future careers. But now more than ever, music has the power to give kids back some of the joy they’ve lost since the start of the pandemic.
And the Merit School of Music, a nationally acclaimed music school in Chicago’s West Loop, is on a mission to provide these benefits to every child, starting as early as a newborn in their early childhood classes all the way through high school.
“If you are looking for a way to connect your child to the real world after two years in pretty much isolation, music is a great bridge to normal life,” says Chip Staley, Merit’s director for one of its top ensembles, Wind Symphony, and a member of the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leadership team.
Staley, a passionate music advocate as founder and president of ARTSpeaks, a nonprofit arts advocacy organization, took some time recently to share his thoughts on what music can do for kids today and how parents throughout Chicagoland can access those benefits easily through the Merit School of Music.
1 Music Builds Language and Reading Skills
“Researchers at Northwestern University have shown that the simple act of copying a steady beat strengthens the brain’s ability to understand the spoken and written word,” Staley says.
That means for kids struggling with reading, music can help their ability to read and understand, he says.
Starting at birth, kids in Merit’s programs sing songs and clap and later might pick up an instrument. “From the moment a child begins instruction at Merit to when they leave, they are always developing their ability to keep a steady beat,” he says.
These are benefits that come no matter what age a child starts with music, he says.
2 Music Builds Resiliency
College administrators recognize a key indicator for students’ success is their involvement in music, says Staley, who also teaches graduate coursework at VanderCook College of Music.
“The reason they know this is because, with musicians, they learn on their way to success, there are many opportunities for failure. They learn that failure is a part of the learning process. When they run into a roadblock in college, they don’t give up. It goes from ‘I don’t know it’ to ‘I don’t know it yet’ and that is a huge thing for kids to learn. Music teaches that pretty much every day,” he says.
In addition, kids in music are always working toward a goal and they learn they don’t always get everything right. Then they do. “There’s that sense of well-being, that sense of accomplishment, that joy that comes after hard work. So it’s not just understanding how to fail, it’s an understanding that little bits of failure lead to moments of joy and moments of joy give you fuel to help you know that you are going to be OK,” he says.
3 Music Builds STEM Skills
Learning an instrument is a particularly good way for parents to help their kids build STEM skills. Staley says it’s well documented that kids with musical backgrounds improve STEM skills and have greater success in a wide variety of fields succeeding in careers such as company CEOs or doctors.
Students involved in music learn the types of 21st century skills kids need no matter what field they pursue in college and beyond: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. “There is not a time involved in musical activity that you are not engaging in all areas,” Staley says.
4 Music Builds Connections
Music is designed to connect students to each other and their instructors in authentic ways.
And at Merit, students build bonds through their music. It’s a place where individual voices and individual contributions to the music making are valued and students discover they are someone who belongs, who is seen and heard, Staley says.
“And that’s what we need today after this pandemic has pretty much crushed everyone’s spirits. What we need right now is those moments of connection with other people,” Staley says. “We provide the space, we provide the personnel, we provide the magic that connects people with who they are.”
Parents can learn more about all the magic of music and sign their kids up today by visiting Merit School of Music’s website or Facebook and Instagram accounts to find videos and educational content. Or they can reach out directly to the school to find the right class or lesson for their child by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 312-786-9428. Financial aid and low-cost instrument rentals are available to qualifying families.