Bindu Subramaniam is a singer, songwriter, Founding Director of SaPa in Schools and Dean at SaPa – Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts. She is passionate about using intercultural perspectives and trans disciplinary education to create a systemic change, and develop social equality, cultural democracy and 21st century skills in children. With that in mind, she co-founded the SaPa in Schools program with her brother Ambi Subramaniam in 2014.
Even before the pandemic, it wasn’t easy to predict the future of work. A 2018 report discussed how we don’t fully know what we’re preparing children for; with many jobs becoming automated, what skills will we really need from the workforce?
Post 2020, it is safe to say that the uncertainty has grown exponentially. As we keep going back and forth between in-person and hybrid learning, we can’t confidently say that we know what workplace culture or migration opportunities will look like even a few months from now – never mind the next couple of decades.
However, it is clear that there will always be a demand for 21st century skills in our leaders of the future. Empathy, teamwork, communication, and appreciation for diversity will always be valued above everything else.
That is where the role of music comes in.
For educators, school leaders, and parents looking to add music and the arts more meaningfully into children’s daily lives, here are some parallel skills that develop as a result of learning music:
Communication and collaboration: Group musical activities encourage children to work with each other towards a larger goal. Additionally, it is a good idea to encourage children to form bands and ensembles that practise regularly, as it is a lesson in working with each other’s strengths as well as navigating limitations.
Time management: With music comes timelines; right from learning the piece and practising it, to staying aware of time spent on stage. Children get hands-on experience in planning, coordinating, and optimising.
Entrepreneurship: A lot of the qualities we see in successful entrepreneurs can be developed via music. Panos Panay, founding managing director of Berklee ICE (Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship), shared an article with his insights about the connection between music and entrepreneurship. “Learning how to play a musical instrument and becoming a musician,” he says, “is an exercise in developing good listening skills, experimenting, overcoming repeated failure, self-discipline, and successful collaboration.”
Consistency: Good music is not made overnight. It takes years and years of patience, hard work, and sticking it out. Not every practice session will be fun and satisfying – sometimes, you will be frustrated. Sometimes, it will take repeated tweaks to get a single note right. But at the end of the day, it is consistent efforts that bring in sustained success. This is true for music, as well as for life as a whole. And it is a lesson worth teaching as early as possible.
Focus: Research has now proved that the concept of multitasking is a myth. The brain can only switch rapidly between two tasks; not do them both together. As a result, we make more mistakes and tend to take longer to complete tasks. It can also be frustrating and lead to burnout. A great alternative to multitasking is the ability to focus on one task at a time, work towards completing it fully, and then move on to the next. With time, you can finish tasks faster and get more done every day – while doing the work thoroughly. Music is a great way to build focus, whether it’s learning to sing or play an instrument or listening to background music.
Quick decision-making: Music keeps you on your toes, requiring you to make split-second decisions many times. Whether it’s small mistakes on stage, technical difficulties, or other glitches in the event venue, you will have to find a way to make the most of the situation (with no time to prepare).
This is a great life skill, too. No matter what career path you choose, you can be sure that you will have to deal with unexpected blips every now and then. Learning to navigate them and think on your feet (while remaining calm) is a wonderful quality to learn as early as possible.
Self-expression: Disciplines like songwriting are a great way to help you get in touch with your emotions and learn to express them in healthy ways. Take, for example, the daily object writing exercise (an integral part of the songwriting process). As part of this routine, you write about one object for 10 minutes – describing it with all the five senses as well as how you feel about the object. This can be daunting at first (we don’t really have deep feelings about a piece of chalk, for example) but can open up the doors to better self-expression, particularly in pre-teen and teenage children.
Since we’re not aware of what “hard skills” children will need decades from now, we can only focus on 21st century skills like patience, problem solving, and perseverance. And music is a great gateway to building all these skills.
One thing to keep in mind: Learning music doesn’t necessarily have to mean singing or playing an instrument. Children stand to gain a lot from pursuing music production, songwriting, composing, sound engineering, and other non-performing musical paths. All that matters is that they follow what they’re passionate about and give their best work each day.