Why all science majors should be required to play an instrument

ImageThe “Mozart Effect” seems to be the latest thing in the media: make your child listen to classical music, he will do better on his SATs. Make your child play an instrument, he will get into the college of his choice. The benefits of playing an instrument have become so popularized in the domain of overbearing parents and college admissions counselors that the true reasons people enjoy it are all too often lost. As a first year biology major, music minor, I’d like to take a minute and examine the reasons why music is so important to me, and why I believe all science majors should be required to play an instrument.

I come from a high school where fifty percent of the student population participates in the music program. It is somewhat of a given: if you are smart, if you are science oriented, chances are you are also involved in music. This is a stereotype in and of itself, but I believe there is a reason so many of these students participate: they like to think, and music makes you think. However, it makes you think in a different way from more traditional STEM coursework. Music is complex. In order to play a song on the violin, you must simultaneously produce the correct note, at the correct time, with the correct bowings and fingerings, all the while conveying some mood or emotion. Making music is multitasking at its best. However, this multitasking, in contrast to the prided modern day skill of being able to walk down the street and text at the same time, all works toward the same, cohesive goal of creating something beautiful for yourself and others. Much of science is like this. Researchers devote their entire lives to discovering or creating something beautiful. Music requires endless patience. Playing the same scales day after day, working on a concerto for months, being corrected over and over again for the same mistakes.  Scientists must practice this patience in their careers. At the same time, this multitasking presents a foil to the often extremely linearized studying necessary to learn science. It teaches science students, who are often linear thinkers, a new way of looking at the world, encouraging them to see the big picture.

Music teaches us to work together. Playing an instrument leads naturally to playing instruments in groups, for which cooperation and good group skills are essential. In an orchestra, everyone must learn to submit to the conductor, taking his lead no matter what decisions he makes in concert. In a chamber group, which lacks a conductor, everyone must learn to compromise and play together. These same skills are essential for science, whether working in someone else’s lab as in an orchestra, or collaborating with colleagues as in a chamber group.

Above all else, music is fun. Majoring in science is hard, and it is all too easy to spend your days studying with no breaks. Participating in music forces you to go do something else for a little while. I look forward to orchestra, studio class, and practice time all day long. They are my daily mini-vacations: no textbooks, no essays, and no practice problems, just beautiful music. I cannot imagine life without violin, and I wish more science majors realized what they were missing. Life is much more interesting with a little variety.

Photo: http://www.gazette.uottawa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/joint-music-science-photo.png

Written by Alice Metz.

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