The Positive Effects of Learning Music

It is commonly said that studying music helps students build self-esteem and develop understandings of themselves. It makes sense that music education would have these influences because it offers students a unique opportunity for expression of feelings and emotions and an opportunity to work with others in a joint effort of creation. Creating something gives human beings a feeling of accomplishment, which helps them build self-esteem and feel good about themselves.
When people feel good about themselves and feel they are successful, it is said that they have high self-esteem and positive self-concepts. Self-concept has to do with the way individuals perceive and assess themselves. In Jolanta Kalandyk’s book, Music and Self-Esteem of Young Children, she explains:
“The self-concept is conceptualized by psychologists as a “hypothetical” construct, not directly observable by researchers. The self-concept, in both adults and children, can be defined as totality of attitudes, judgments, and values relating to the individual’s behaviour, abilities and qualities. It embraces the awareness of these variables and their evaluation. Other terms given to self-concept are: self-identity, self-image, perceived self, self-perception, cognitive self and self-structure”
If a person has a positive overall (general or global) self-concept, then that person feels good about himself or herself and has high self-esteem. If a person has a positive music self-concept, then that person is happy with his or her level of ability as a musician. Some researchers make a clear distinction between self-concept and self-esteem, while others use the two terms interchangeably. Kalandyk suggests that self-esteem is the evaluative part of self-concept, and that if one is said to have high or positive self-concept then this means the self-esteem aspect of his or her self-concept is high. However, in this paper, I will use self-esteem to refer to a students general feelings of confidents and self-worth (which is certainly an aspect of self-concept), and self-concept will also be described as an evaluative construct dependant on students perceptions of themselves, so that students can have positive to negative self-concepts. Self-concept and self-esteem are important forces in an individual’s life. Self-esteem is one of the needs in Maslow’s famous hierarchy of human needs: 1) Physical, 2) Safety, 3) Love, 4) Self-esteem, and 5) Self-actualization. Rosenberg states:
“Few activities engage our lives so profoundly as the defense and enhancement of the self. The self-esteem motive intrudes on many of our daily activities, influencing what we say, how we act, how we respond to stimuliThe self-esteem motive is thus a constant force in our day-to-day lives”
Students with a positive music self-concept are more likely to participate, enjoy, and excel in music. Furthermore, musical experiences, as long as they are non-threatening, positively influence students’ general and musical self-concepts. Music self- concept and success/involvement in music are connected concepts (positive self-concept leads to success and success leads to positive self-concept); therefore, there is strong reason for music educators to consider the self-esteem of their students in their methods of teaching.

Evaluating Self-Concept:
Self-esteem and self-concept are difficult to research and assess because they have to do with the way people feel and perceive themselves. There are many different models that researchers use to describe and assess self-concept, and music self-concept. Most researchers today see self-concept as a multidimensional concept in which a person’s general self-concept is made up of his or her self-perceptions in specific areas. Walter P. Vispoel explains in his discussion of contemporary models of self-concept that recent research views self-concept as multidimensional and perhaps hierarchical.
Until the around the 1980s self-concept was viewed as a unidimensional construct. For example, in Coopersmith’s Self-Esteem Inventory(1967) self-concept is a total score derived from responses to self-referenced items. This understanding of self-concept has been criticized for failing to consider different facets of self-concept (intelligence, social, physical etc) and peoples different opinions of what aspects are important to them, both of which influence the way people perceive themselves.
In Harter’s description of a child’s self-concept (1982), areas that are considered more important by an individual are considered factors that are more important in his or her general self-concept. For example, if people consider a specific aspect (such as musical ability) very important in how they feel about themselves, while they consider another aspect less important (such as physical appearance), then their self-concepts of their musical ability would have more of an influence on their general self-concepts than their self-concepts of their physical appearance would. This seems a logical approach to self-concept because people have very different opinions about what areas are important to excel in, and people feel differently about they want to be like themselves, and this would influence how they perceive themselves. Having a negative self-concept in an area you feel is important would have a greater negative impact on your general self-concept than having a negative self-concept in something you do not feel is important to you. This could mean that students who feel they are strong in music but weaker in sports could still have a positive general self-concept as long as music is something they feel is important. Music education can build self-esteem particular in students who struggle in other areas.
Vispoel develops models of self-concept and music self-concept that also incorporate the individual’s perceived importance of each measured aspect of self-concept, and each aspect has a proportionally different weight in the structure of self concept (hierarchical) [see appendices]. Vispoel states that, “[m]usic researchers by and large have not developed well-articulated theories of music self-concept, built measurement tools derived from such theories, or taken advantage of many methodological tools available for conducting self-concept research” and in his Arts Self-Perception Inventory (1992) and his Music Self-Perception Inventory (1993), he demonstrates more contemporary and accurate models of self-concept. Music Self-Perception Inventory (1993) focuses on music self-concept only, but at many different levels: each aspect has one subscale that assesses perceptions of general musical ability, and six additional subscales that assess perceptions in more specific areas, such as singing, instrument playing, reading music, sigh-reading, composing, listening, and creating dance movements. From this, he developed a hierarchical structure of music self-concept made up of instrumental performance self-concept and non-instrumental performance self-concept [see ap.1]. It is important to note that in this theory the specific hierarchy of music self-concept and general self-concept will vary between individuals. He concludes by stating that “self-concept is organized and multifaceted music self-concept is hierarchically structuredmusic is part of a person’s overall self-concept[and] music self-concepts relations with overall self-concept are mediated by involvement and interest in music, and by the importance ascribed to doing well in music.

Music educations influence on self-concept:
Many music educators feel that music makes a difference in their students’ lives because it makes them more confident and enthusiastic, and because it helps students understand who they are and how they feel. Music is a vehicle “for the conception and expression of the inner and outer knowledge that is both self-expressing and self-enhancing Providing them with various media formusiccan enhance their sense of control over learning and over ideas, thus enhancing their self-concept.” Often music educators and parents claim that they can see a difference in students who get involved in music education, and the students themselves often say that being involved in music helped them become more comfortable with themselves and confident that they can be successful in life. There have been a number of studies to investigate whether or not music education has a positive influence on people’s self-esteem and self-concept.
In a study by Nolin and VanderArk (1977), ninth-grade band and choir students were found to have much higher self-esteem scores than non-music students according to the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory(1967), which assess self-esteem as the sum of responses to self-referenced items and weighs all items equally.
Christee Jenlink (1993) found that participation in a select performance group of elementary school’s music program helped to raise the self-esteem of students at-risk. However, Christina Shields, who conducted a study of the impact performing in a special performance group (choir or creative percussion), while receiving mentoring from the music teacher, would have on at-risk grade-six students, did not find that music education conclusively raised students self-esteem scores. In this study, mentoring included giving extra music instruction at lunch times, as well as activities such as informal guitar group, sharing in the students’ favourite music, and providing for individual small needs, musical or non-musical). The results showed no significant different in the students’ perceptions of their scholastic competence, social acceptance, physical appearance, behavioral conduct, and global self-worth using the “Self-Perception Profile for Children” (Harter, 1985), although there was an increase in the students perception of their music self-concept and of their impression of the importance of music. Despite this, in interviews, the students demonstrated improved self-esteems; they described themselves as musical, creative and talented, achievers, nice, fun, and funny (some also said quiet or bad).
Eugenia Costa-Giomi (2004) conducted in which sixty-three fourth grade students of lower income families who had never participated in formal music instruction were given weekly piano lessons for three years and an acoustic piano, while fifty-four grade four students in the control group did not receive any formal music instruction. The children performed tests to assess their self-esteem, academic achievement, musical abilities, and cognitive abilities. She states, “[t]he increase in self-esteem of the children who completed three years of piano instruction was significant while the changes in self-esteem of those who never participated in piano instruction or who dropped out of the lessons were not (see ap.3)”
Although, due to complexity of self-concept and the number of different influences in addition to music education on any individual, the results of many studies of the relationship between self-esteem and music education have been inconclusive, in interviews music students frequently attribute understanding and feeling better about themselves to their musical studies and there is a general agreement that music education does build self-esteem; the real questions to ask are how and why. If music educators can understand how music education helps develop self-concept then they can build on this further in their teaching and help students even more.

How does music education enhance self-concept?
In “Enhancement of Self-Concept through Discipline-Based Art Education”, Marilee Cowan and Faith Clover describe four antecedents of enhanced self-concept: affiliation, personal worth, security, and accomplishment. Understanding what feelings and experiences influence a person’s self-concept will help to understand how music education can enhance self-concept. A student who has affiliation feels they identify with and belong to a group. Being a member of a band or choir can offer a sense of belonging to children who feel socially out of place. Being a member of a choir or band can also instill a sense of personal worth because, when music educators approach ensembles with individuals’ development in mind, students can feel they are contributing to the group and that their efforts are worthwhile. Students who do not excel in other areas can feel that, in an ensemble setting at least, they can successfully make music. Put simply, music education makes students feel that they have friends and that they are important individuals. A student who feels a sense of security feels comfortable taking risks. In music, this means they are comfortable performing and discussing music, being criticized, being involved, and being expressive. Students are comfortable doing these things than that means they feel confident about their abilities and ideas, and that they value themselves and their opinions. Feeling a sense of security helps build students self-esteem and taking risks helps them develop an understanding of themselves, both of which are involved in how students perceive themselves. A sense of accomplishment in music students means that they feel satisfaction from their achievements in music; whether it is a performance or an assignment, the students feel they have done well and they are progressing.
In order to better understand how people develop music self-concepts, it is necessary to understand what people think makes a successful musician. In 1985, Asmus conducted a study regarding students’ beliefs about what causes success and failure in music. The majority of the 118 students included in the study selected ability and effort as the major causes. In 1986, Asmus conducted another studying regarding students’ beliefs about success and failure in music, this time involving 589 student from grades 4-12, and found that 80% cited internal attributes, such as ability or effort as the main causes, and, interesting, stable causes, such as ability or task difficulty, were more often stated for success, while luck was more often cited for failure. This illustrates that children perceive success in music to be the result of ability and effort and understand that success in music is not a result of luck. The fact that more stable causes were attributed to success implies that students see their rate of success as set, while their rate of failure could increase as a result of bad luck. This has a negative impact on students’ music self-concept because it implies that one can only be successful to a certain degree and then it is beyond their ability level; however, if more emphasis was put on effort and if students’ felt that ability could be change by effort then many students would feel more confident about their ability to improve as musicians, which would improve their music self-concept. This is an important concept for music educators to note because music educators evaluate and commend effort, and suggest that ability is the result of continuous effort than students will have positive music self-concepts. Even students that display strong musical ability will feel better about themselves as a result of this view because it is more rewarding to think that you are successful because of your efforts than because of an inherent ability. If students feel confident they can succeed in music, they will be more likely to succeed in music.
Music self-concept’s relationship to participation and achievement in music:
It seems logical that students with positive music self-concepts will be more eager to get involved in music and more motivated to work hard in order to succeed at music.
Austin (1990) conducted a study of 252 fifth and sixth grade students’ beliefs about ability, skill, motivation, and approval from others. He used Schmitt’s (1979) self-esteem of music ability scale to assess the students’ music self-concepts and found that students with high music self-concepts were the ones who participated in music activities in school and outside of school, and he concluded that a students’ concepts of themselves as a music students influences their motivation to participate in music activities (Austin, 1990).
If students have positive music self-concepts then they will be more confident that they can succeed in music, and it seems reasonable to think that if students feel they are likely to succeed they will be more willing to work hard to succeed than if they do not think they have a high likelihood of succeeding. If effort (in music this is often practice) is a strong reason for achievement, then, because having a positive music self-concept makes students more willing to put in effort, it will also make them more likely to succeed in music because “positive self-perceptions enhance motivation and achievement while negative self-perceptions have the opposite effect.” Hedden (1982) investigates this concept by conducting a study 144 elementary general music students. The results of this study indicated that having a positive self-concept in music was in fact a significant predictor of music achievement.
This is valuable information for many reasons. It means that if educators want to get more students involved and interested in musical activities then they need to help students develop positive music self-concepts in mandatory music classes. It also means that if music educators want to keep students involved in music activities and ensembles and if they want students to achieve in music then students experiences in these music activities and ensembles need to be positive experiences that contribute to the development of music self-concept because negative experiences can make students insecure about their musical abilities and uncomfortable being involved in music.
Conclusion: What does this mean for music educators?
There is ample evidence that music education does help students develop both overall and music self-concept and that having a positive overall and music self-concept will make students more eager to get involved in music and help them succeed in music and other areas of life. Music educators need to be conscious of the role music education plays in building self-esteem in students. For music education to enhance student’s self-concepts, it must be a positive and inclusive experience. This means that teachers need to value every student as a person and a musician and steer away from judging them. Teachers can easily get caught up with evaluating their students, but the focus should really be on helping them grow. Music educators need to be supportive and encourage the belief that musical ability is the result of effort. Music educators should take consider their students self-esteem in their approach to music education and how they conduct their classes.
Jolanta Kalandyk demonstrates how music can be used to enhance self-esteem in her book Music and the Self-Esteem of Young Children, in which she describes and studies the affects of an experimental music class specifically design for helping young children develop self-esteem. This illustrates that music can have even greater impact on students’ self-esteem if music educators are conscious of enhanced self-esteem as a goal of music education.
Music educators should take pride in knowing that music education is a way of reaching out to students and helping them develop as human beings. The arts are different from other school subjects because they involve emotions and self-expression, which allow students to gain an understanding of who they are. David Elliot states:
“The aims of music education, and the primary goals of every music teaching-learning situation, are to enable students to achieve self-growth, self-knowledge, and musical enjoyment by educating their musicianship in balanced relation to musical challenges within selected musical practices. It follows from this that musicianship is also a unique and major source of self-esteem.
By understanding the unique way in which music education can enhance students’ self-concepts, music educators can learn to teach music in a way that brings emotions, self-expression, involvement, enthusiasm, confidence, critical-thinking, and cooperation to the forefront, helping students develop an understanding of themselves and others.