The Social Psychology of Music Education
Music education has long been intertwined with human creativity and expression. Yet, music also plays a major role in our cognitive and psychological development. While many often consider music and psychology on an individual level, it is important to keep in mind that music is often a social activity. Considering this, let’s take a brief look at the social psychology of music education.
Many studies on the social aspect of music have found that a listener’s social environment can have a huge impact on their interpretation and emotional response to music. To better understand this, consider some of the different social environments where music listening is a common activity:
- Coffee shops
- Music Venues
- A Friends House
- Public Transportation
Now, glance again at the social environments mentioned above and think of what kinds of music is typically played at these places. It may now become clear the role that our social environment plays, but to accentuate this even further, consider this: what if you were studying or reading at a coffee shop and at a rock and roll song began blasting full volume out of the speakers. Naturally, you would be shocked, unsettled and maybe even a bit annoyed. Yet, this negative emotional response would have nothing to do with the song – in fact, you might even really like the song. The negative response would be more due to the fact that both the song and its loudness did not fit in very well with your current social environment.
The connection between music interpretation and social environment is particularly important for music educators to consider, as they may be able to leverage this insight to inspire difficult or hard-to-motivate students. Examples of this may include incorporating the year’s pop songs into the curriculum, or transforming a rock song into a passionate choral performance.
Music education has the potential to play a key role in a student’s understanding of both diversity and harmony. For example, when learning a song as apart of an entre band or choir, students will be given a section that best corresponds with their instrument or vocal range (e.g. tenors, sopranos, flutes, etc.).
Within this section, there may be further segmentation as some groups sing particular melodies while a different group sings another. Initially, a student new to music may become confused, asking “Why are there so many different sections and melodies? Won’t this sound out of sync or tune? Shouldn’t we all just sing the same parts?” In response, an instructor will comfort the student, telling them to just try it and see how things sound.
After trying and listening, the student is blown away, for all the different sections and melodies don’t sound out of tune at all. In fact, dividing the choir into different melodies sounds more beautiful and complex than if they had all sung the same parts of the song. The student then leaves that day with an invaluable lesson on social psychology: not every individual has to be alike or sound the same in order for there to be beauty and harmony – in fact, the opposite is more often the case.
Social Bonding Through Music
As many music educators already know, music can also be used as an excellent social bonding tool. For example, a music classroom might consist of a variety of cultures, ethnicities, interests, socioeconomic statuses and even languages. If these identities were used as a foundation, a teacher’s classroom would quickly become both segmented and divided. Yet by focusing on music, students dispose and transcend their differences, and thus create and bond with individuals that they may never have collaborated with outside of the music classroom.
What is even more interesting and exciting to consider is the fact that many of these bonds and collaborations continue on outside of the classroom. For instance, there are a multitude of friendships that were solely inspired by music. So whether it is sharing a favorite band or respecting each others’ vocal abilities, a music classroom provides a unique avenue for students to express themselves and form new friendships with peers that they may not have initially found much in common with.
Music educators should also consider themselves a part of the social collaboration that takes place within a music classroom. For many students, teachers are the only positive role models that come across in their adolescent life. With music, educators can break through barriers simply by letting a student know that they share a favorite band or telling them that they have a good ear for finding musical talent.
As noted, there are a variety of social psychological factors that play into music education. Whether it is by understanding an environment’s impact on music interpretation or leveraging music for social bonding development, music educators have a unique and inspiring opportunity to function as a positive role model in a student’s life. Thus, music educators should deepen their understanding of music education and social psychology to continue teaching social harmony to our future generations.