Music deserves more credit


Josiah Taylor

The Ohio Department of Education requires 5 elective credits, but the ambiguity of the requirement means many students go their whole high school career without taking a music class.

My Mondays begin at 6:15 in the morning. Begrudgingly, I crawl out of bed with barely enough time to get dressed and eat before driving to school. It may only be 7:00 AM, but I’m already dreading my existence. I know what the school day entails. Why’d the teacher have to turn out the lights? Oh wow, did I really not get that much sleep last night? I do not understand this material. Well, that went in one ear and out the other. Shoot, I have a scholarship application due in a few weeks and I don’t even know the essay prompt. Wait, what did my teacher just say? How am I going to get all this homework done? Do I have something after school? Yay, food. More homework? How am I expected to remember this in May? Just one…more…period…

After school hours aren’t much relief. The time between 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM is the designated period of the day where I debate whether or not I have the energy to both teach myself the material I missed and do my homework. Usually, the answer is no, and I end up taking a nap and eating dinner instead.

At 7:30 PM, I drive to Mason for my weekly vocal/piano lessons. I’ve been doing vocals for five years, but recently I expressed interest in learning the keyboard so my coach and I have been doing a mix. This week, in particular, we decided to do a piano lesson. The lesson may only be thirty minutes long, but my mind is just as rampant. Ooh, Abby, that was not the right chord. Yes, that was the right chord! Why is this clicking in my mind? Wow, I love the B flat chord. So ominous. I’m actually playing the song right, this is a start. I may not be a big fan of “Waitress” but She Used to Be Mine is such a good song. My singing actually didn’t sound that bad there. What’s the next chord? This song is so soothing. I love singing but keyboard takes music to a whole other level. Why didn’t I do this a long time ago? I just need a few more minutes, please.

Guess which part of my day I enjoy the most.

During the school year, teenagers report significantly higher stress levels than adults. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, on a scale of 1 to 10, teenagers reported an average stress level of 5.8, whereas adults reported 5.1. Personally, I’d say 5.8 is lowballing it. Sometimes I wonder if these music lessons are what have kept me sane over the years. 

The faculty at our school make it obvious that mental health is a priority to them. With the introduction of advisory bells last school year and the Hope Squad, sometimes it feels like you can’t turn a corner in the building without seeing some uplifting message. These efforts are great and all, but one solution they’ve yet to consider is music.

According to Debra Shipman, Ph.D., musical training improves both mental health and cognitive function. When it comes specifically to piano lessons, studies show that playing the piano reduces cortisol (our fight-and-flight hormone) levels and decreases anxiety. 

The nonprofit organization Guitars for Vets participated in a controlled pilot that showed positive results in regards to both post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among the veterans after just six weeks of private weekly guitar lessons and group lessons.

Emotional stress is a major factor in six leading causes of death in the United States, including accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, and suicide. Playing the keyboard, compared to other relaxing activities such as reading or solving a puzzle, has been shown to significantly reduce stress levels. 

Shipman’s 2016 article makes it seem obvious, doesn’t it? Schools should require their students to take a music class for mental health purposes. But as you review the Ohio graduation requirements as well as our own student handbook, there is a gaping hole where the music requirement should be. While music classes are offered to students who want to take them, I am among the large population of students who haven’t stepped foot in a music classroom since the seventh grade. Not because I wasn’t interested, but because I was taught to prioritize “true academics.” I haven’t taken a music course in school, but since the seventh grade, I have taken the required four math classes, three science classes, three social studies classes, four English classes, and then some. As beneficial as the material I’ve learned maybe, there is no denying the amount of suffocating stress it brought me and my classmates. I often question whether or not what I experience is more than daily stress, but to society, it’s normal. Don’t worry about that weight on your chest because these are the courses that “matter.”

But what matters more? My grades? My GPA? The difficulty of my classes? How smart I present myself to be? Or my mental health? 

It seems the Ohio Department of Education has decided.