Music for Music's Sake

In the article Why study music?, music education professor Donald Hodges explains 10 understandings/experiences unique to music.  He writes:

1. Feelings – central to any discussion of music as a knowledge system must be the idea of feelings. From one end of the continuum dealing with vague, unspecified moods to the  other end dealing with crystallized emotions such as grief or joy, music is intrinsically connected with feelings.

2. Aesthetic experiences – all human beings have a need forbeauty and to activate their innate responsiveness to the organized expressive sounds that we call music.

3. The ineffable – precisely because music is a nonverbal form of expression, it is a powerful means to express or to know that which is difficult or impossible to put into words.  Two of the most common human experiences that are frequently known through music are love and spiritual awareness.

4. Thoughts – musical thought is just as viable as linguistic, mathematical, or visual thought. It can be a potent means of expressing ideas and of knowing truth.

5. Structure – closely allied to the idea of thinking is structure. The human mind seeks patterns, structure, order, and logic. Music provides a unique way of structuring sounds across time, as well as providing a means of structuring thoughts, feelings, and human experiences.

6. Time and space – time and space are the ‘stuff’ of the universe. All human knowledge systems provide ways of dealing with time and space. As indicated in ‘Structure’ above, music is a means of organizing sounds across time. Although music occurs in ‘real’ time, it deals more with ‘felt’ time. Music, especially in connection with dance (bodily-kinesthetic knowledge system), is a primary means of experiencing space in time.

7. Self knowledge – music’s role in intrinsic, and especially peak (transcendent, life-changing), learning experiences provides for powerful insights into our private, inner worlds.

8. Self identity- many gain their sense of self through a variety of musical activities and experiences.

9. Group identity- group identity through music is both inclusive and exclusive in that (a) music helps cement the bonding of those members of a group who share common ideas, beliefs, and behaviors, and (b) music helps isolate and separate one group from another.

10. Healing and wholeness- from more specific applications of music in therapy and medicine to more general interactions, music has profound effects on human beings. Music provides a vehicle for the integration of body, mind, and spirit.


The National Art Education Association lists these 10 Lessons the Arts Teach:

1. The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships.

2. The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.

3. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives.

4. The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity.

5. The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know.

6. The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects.

7. The arts teach students to think through and within a material.

8. The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said.

9. The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.

10. The arts’ position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

SOURCE: Eisner, E. (2002). The Arts and the Creation of Mind, In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows. (pp. 70-92). Yale University Press. Available from NAEA Publications.


In the book Why Our Schools Need the Arts (2007), Jessica Hoffmann Davis lists 5 unique features of the arts.  More information is available in Hickman’s book review.

1) Tangible product: Imagination and Agency

2) Focus on emotion: Expression and Empathy

3) Ambiguity: Interpretation and Respect

4) Process orientation: Inquiry and Reflection

5) Connection: Engagement and Responsibility