Research shows that self-discipline is a better predictor of success in life than IQ tests – and it has further shown that good character and resilience can be taught at schools, with lifelong benefits. Work at the University of Birmingham Jubilee Centre for Character and Values shows that an undue emphasis on exam passes robs young people of the broad education that schools should be providing.As much as I appreciate school music programs, I really believe that it is the teachers and not the programs that make all the difference. Like general education programs in colleges, musical education programs often attract students who are adequate at applying methods to what they teach once the find themselves in school positions, but some are not necessarily good teachers. I have seen too many music teachers make school musical activities uninteresting and even annoying. I have also seen teachers who are excellent musicians themselves turn neglected abused music programs around.
The argument has been put succinctly by the distinguished educationalist Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard. He says the question that schools should ask is ‘not, how intelligent is this child, but rather, how is this child intelligent?’
Studying music, particularly the classical kind, is not a way out of economic poverty. Someone who practices like crazy in high school and sets out to make a living in music these days has a good shot at life at or below the poverty level unless s/he acquires the skills necessary to get a day job to support a musical habit. On the other hand someone who has private lessons from a good (and affordable) teacher can bring the values of musical experience into adult life while following a non-professional or semi-professional musical path.
Like everything else in the business of education, what matters most is the ability of the individual teacher to reach the individual student. It can happen in a classroom or in a private studio. This is a slow and steady process that involves commitment on both sides. It is also something that cannot be quantified in any way, because success is different for every single student.
Some students have a lot of intelligence, but they don't pay attention to what they need to do physically on the instrument in order to make a beautiful sound. Some students make lovely sounds, but have difficulty with rhythm. Some students have difficulty opening up emotionally through music. Some students don't have the patience to listen to themselves. Some students don't practice. Some students practice, but hold a lot of tension in their hands. Some students have good enough ears to get away with not reading music. Some students read music well, but have a difficult time thinking beyond the notes and rhythms.
The journey is different for every musician at every stage of the game.