The Most Underused Resource in Education

Patrick Cerria
5 min readJan 19, 2024


Music has a power of forming the character and should, therefore, be introduced into the education of the young.” — Aristotle, Politics

Full disclosure, I’m a total band geek. Yeah, I may be a 57 year old musician/music educator, but a significant part of my roots will always be in the school band room. That’s the place where I was able to figure myself out, realize my abilities, and be inspired.


I’m telling you this because what I am about to say may shock you: We need to redefine Music Education in our schools. But before I explain why, I want you to ponder the following: In your school district are you using your music teacher(s) to…

  • Assist school occupational therapists?
  • Assist school speech therapists?
  • Go into self-contained classrooms of behaviorally classified students to assist with and enhance self-regulation, socialization, and body awareness protocols?
  • Go into self-contained classrooms of sensory delayed students to assist with and enhance body awareness, balance, and socialization protocols?
  • Go into ALL school classrooms to assist teachers with classroom management strategies and implementation?

If your answers to these are “No” I want you to ask yourself Why not?

Truth is, I know why you answered “No”. It’s because you view music in the context of an elective. It’s a class you don’t have to take. Music sits so low on the totem pole that when budget cuts come up on the School Board agenda, music educators are the first to start shaking in our boots. We know what’s coming — and we know it’s coming for a reason: Band, chorus, orchestra and general music are non-essential. Yes, there’s the inevitable School Board meeting where parents show up and desperately explain how marching band or jazz band means the world to their kids. They plead their case while Board members stare back and pretend to listen. The stories are told, the Board members provide brief consideration and then — WHACK! — the budget is slashed and the district suddenly has two music teachers instead of five. The band room is converted into a STEM* lab and the music teachers are reduced to pushing a cart around the school loaded with a keyboard, instruments, books, and assorted musical ephemera.

Right now, the US has over 7 million children receiving school provided special education services. That’s 15% of the American public school population. Within that population, there are a number of disabilities serviced and these include diagnoses like Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD’s); developmental disabilities; intellectual disabilities; and emotional disturbances. Many of these classifications tie into each other. So (for example), a student with an ASD can also have a behavioral classification and/or low muscle tone and/or a speech delay. In fact, within all of these populations, 19% have a diagnosed speech or language impairment. The developmental diversity amongst our students is vast, and there is credible and powerful scientific scholarship available showing how music assists in the overall treatment for a lot of these diagnoses.

A 2013 study on the uses of music and movement based interventions within ASD student populations states: “The rising incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) has led to a surge in the number of children needing autism interventions. This paper is a call to clinicians to diversify autism interventions and to promote the use of embodied music-based approaches to facilitate multisystem development…” The study also shows how music based interventions help with social skills as well as language development.

A 2007 study done at Stanford University School of Medicine found that when short classical symphonies were played for students, peak brain activity occurred in the silences between recordings. A peer review of the study went on to state: “[O]ne possible adaptive evolutionary purpose of music is that it helps sharpen [the brain’s] ability to anticipate events and sustain attention.” This seems relevant when you consider CDC data that reports the rate of ADHD diagnosis amongst American children ages 3–17 years is 9.8% — roughly 6 million children nationwide.

In essence, we are seeing more scientific and academic research showing just how dynamic music is. To some extent, we’ve always known this. Music has always been known to have strange effects on us. Over centuries there have been numerous accounts of the physical and emotional effects of music. The ancient Greeks engaged in an early form of music therapy and used the varied modes of the musical scales to help with digestion and to treat mental health issues. At various points throughout the years, different countries (literally) used classical music to deter crime and to drive loitering teens out of convenience store parking lots and public parks (I’m sure Beethoven never imagined that his symphonies would one day be used as a hoodlum repellent).

Research regarding music and human development as well as its effects on us is going to continue to get stronger. As technology continues to perpetuate and get more efficient, so too will science. I can tell you from my 20 years of being an educator and working with special needs children, I have had breakthrough moments of my own. And I am doing my own part to progress research. This past summer I presented a small case study on the uses of music and movement interventions on Autistic students with speech delays. My research piqued the interest of a colleague so much, she and I are getting ready to do a larger study on the subject. If you really want to have your mind blown, and get insight into just how much research is out there, you should read neuroscientist Daniel Levitin’s This is Your Brain on Music. I’ll just quote one of his passages to get your wheels spinning: “Musical activity involves every region of the brain that we know about, and nearly every neural subsystem.

All of this data and research is telling me one thing: Instead of cutting back music programming in schools, we should be expanding it along with the roles and functionality of music educators. It’s time to move beyond the notes and redefine “Music Education”.

I feel this is an important message to send in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mind you, pre-pandemic (as early as 2010) pediatric medical professionals were waving red flags regarding the mental health of our kids. These flags were, by and large, ignored. Then the pandemic made an already desperate situation worse. It turns out, music is yet another great tool in the protocols to treat anxiety and depression. This is even more relevant because CDC data tells us that amongst American kids aged 3–17 years the current rates of anxiety (9.4% — approximately 5.8 million) and depression (4.4% — approximately 2.7 million) are startling. Mind you, music is not a cure for these diagnoses, but it can (and should) be used to enhance the services provided to treat them.

I think it’s important for me to say that I don’t believe music educators need to return to college and become board certified music therapists. What I am saying is training should be made available to them so they can begin to make themselves available to these populations, and do so effectively and confidently.

Over the course of the next few weeks I will explain how we can take music education beyond the notes and expand it into areas of education no one is considering. As you will see, this is not an idea that will not only change the perception of music (and the arts) in education, but will also help all teachers view themselves and their work in a more creative mindset. I believe expanding the role of music in education can benefit the entire school.

Stay tuned to find out how.


  • The latest attempt to include the arts by re-labeling it “STEAM” is anemic at best.



Patrick Cerria

I’m a music teacher, husband, father, author, speaker who teaches disabled & at-risk students. I write about education, philosophy & the absurdity of life.