Music brings academic benefits across the curriculum, but it’s not just about the grades. There’s overwhelming evidence that music improves everything from state of mind to physical well-being. Here, eight schools explain the benefits of studying music

Oakham School

Oakham School music

At Oakham music is woven into the fabric of everyday life. The school is a core part of Rutland Music Hub – a unique delivery vehicle in the centre of this small rural county which previously had no county-wide music service. Sharing music has been a mission for the school and its Director of Music Peter Davis. “We are a centre of excellence,” says Peter. “We should be sharing and are uniquely able to share.”

An example of this spirit of sharing was the ‘Pied Piper’ performance held at De Montfort Hall, Leicester last autumn. The music had been composed by Peter Davis during a sabbatical and was designed to give the children of Rutland the opportunity to sing. And sing they did – 420 pupils from across the county aged from 8 to 18 took to the stage for the county’s first collaborative concert. It raised the roof and earned a standing ovation for its composer and conductor. He says this was a golden opportunity to engage young people and the endeavour found some very promising singers. 

While this is a large-scale project, music happens in every way and every day around the school and the town – lunchtime concerts, community choirs. There’s also Oakham Choral Society, fully supported by the school and able to use its facilities. With over 80 concerts performed by pupils each year locally, there are also national accolades to celebrate – the school’s chamber choir has won numerous awards. 

There are impressive numbers of pupils at the school who make music – currently around half the school’s pupils are involved with ensembles – and with eight core teaching staff working alongside over 30 visiting teachers, students have access to elite music tuition.  

Bromley High School

Bromley High School

The joy of making music is at the heart of Bromley High School GDST, and with musical excellence also front of mind. There are three orchestras, more than ten small-scale and larger chamber ensembles and eight choirs, not to mention the two specialist iMac suites where girls are taught music technology on industry-standard equipment. Music scholarships are offered at 11,13 and 16+ and music scholars have the opportunity to take part in a wide range of musical experiences.

Bromley High was also the first all-girls school in the world to be accredited as an All Steinway School in 2017. This accreditation is given when a school provides Steinway pianos for play and rehearsals in all practice and performance spaces. The school now has 10, including the Concert Model D and Model B.

Being an All Steinway School gives students the opportunity to attend masterclasses given by Steinway artists and perform themselves at Steinway Hall. When the accreditation was confirmed, the school’s music scholars had a masterclass from renowned concert pianist Joanna MacGregor CBE as part of the celebrations. Caroline Daniel, Director of Music at Bromley, says: “It has been incredibly exciting to become the first all girls’ school to gain the Steinway accreditation. We are pleased to see our girls embarking on a first-class musical journey as well as ensuring that other local young musicians can benefit from this.”

Other musical initiatives at Bromley High include a new Musician in Residence to support the school’s exceptional musicians and develop partnerships with local schools. There are opportunities for keen musicians to give solo/chamber performances over the year and lead ensembles or workshops with local schools and the junior school. Music making is always about sharing, so the school also puts on an annual London concert – most recently at Cadogan Hall – inviting the public along. 

Forest School

Forest School Snaresbrook

Forest School, Snaresbrook encourages musical learning as a vital part of pupils’ development.  Children can join group or solo singing sessions, there are multiple choirs and ensembles  and the annual House Music Competition raises the roof of the Sports Hall and Deaton Theatre. Less rowdy music-making happens with Chapel Choir, which sings at services and events. A lively band scene led by pupils includes ‘Live Lounge’ events.

The music department’s large stock of instruments can be hired out to pupils and there is also a visiting composer, plus activities by cutting-edge professionals, who offer pupils the chance to develop skills in areas such as composition. At 11+ and 16+ entry pupils can apply for music scholarships to support their music education at the school.

Community partnership includes outreach activities with both local schools and organisations such as Hackney Empire. Notable recent events include a performance of Faure’s Requiem by a choir of 80 pupils from Forest and five local primary schools, plus an adult chorus and orchestra – the culmination of eight months’ work to showcase the transformative power of group music making. 

Parkside School

Parkside School

At Parkside School, Cobham, the Music Department, headed by Jeremy Attwood, believe that the cornerstone of any child’s learning adventure is, in a nutshell:  “creativity!”  This provides the foundation to shape children’s mindset. The sounds of YMCA being played on the ukulele with immense passion is frequent proof of a dynamic environment where music is to be celebrated. Parkside believes it is essential to create opportunities, offering new genres and different ensembles to suit every ability.

Informal charity performances at local venues are performed alongside formal recitals on the grand piano in the school’s performance hall. By the time children leave Parkside, they will have learned to play djembe, violin, keyboard and ukulele as part of their music curriculum. More than that, children at Parkside are encouraged to enjoy the experience of music making – sharing it with other people and watching the ideas that emerge. 

St Edmund’s School

St Edmund's School

St Edmund’s School, Canterbury believes that schools which fully embrace music and the arts provide the best possible grounding. “Music is part of everyone’s life, from birth as we are immersed in the sounds, melodies, harmonies and rhythms from the world around us,” says Director of Music Spencer Payne.  

St Edmund’s pupils have dedicated practical and academic class music lessons on a weekly basis. Pupils make music together through a range of topics based around listening, composing and performing. Junior and Senior School House music and singing competitions give the opportunity for all pupils within the school to get involved. 

In the lower years, pupils explore sound, movement, pulse, rhythmic patterns, scales and melodies – all based on topics that introduce or consolidate these key skills needed for interpretation and performance at a higher level. They also have the opportunity to try out orchestral instruments on a rota basis to encourage fine motor skills and experience real, acoustic sound.

The school believes the health benefits of music making cannot be overstressed and, whether pupils enjoy singing in a choir, playing as part of a band, orchestra or in an ensemble, they can also draw upon these experiences to enhance emotional intelligence.

“From the early musical experiences for pupils, the mastery of a great choral tradition by our Canterbury Cathedral Choristers to the highly skilled A level musicians in the sixth form, music is something we celebrate and fully support at St Edmund’s. We believe that music should be part of everyone’s daily lives,” says Spencer Payne.

School music groups cater for everyone’s tastes – whether it be orchestral, choral, big band, small ensembles or soloists. Many of these groups are also available to the local community, and school musical life is enriched by a wide variety of music trips, masterclasses, workshops, lunchtime concerts, and larger scale termly concerts in awe-inspiring locations such as Canterbury Cathedral.

St James Senior Girls’ School

St James Senior Girls School

Music is a cornerstone of life at St James Senior Girls’ School in London’s Kensington Olympia, which has a strong tradition of choral and solo singing. It is a core subject up to Year 9 and remains perennially popular as a GCSE and A level subject.

The school has a variety of choirs, orchestras and ensembles and encourages its pupils to take up individual lessons. Girls sing at services in St Mary Abbots Church, Kensington and the year end is marked by an annual joint concert with the Senior Boys’ School. Managing groups with mixed abilities is, says Head of Music, Myra Brunton, a matter of balance.

The school’s Youth Dance Company and annual choreography competition, introduce another, often very contemporary element, while Arts Week is an opportunity to participate in myriad kinds of music and drama. An undoubted highlight of the calendar is the joint musical with St James Senior Boys’ that takes place biennially – widening both the dynamics of performance and the audience.

Tonbridge School

Tonbridge School

Tonbridge School, Kent has a long tradition of music to draw on and it is woven into school life. Chapel is a big part of pastoral life – the stunning building, which can accommodate the whole school, also houses a renowned Marcussen & Søn organ. Other superb music facilities include two recital halls (this is an All Steinway School), teaching and practice rooms, double recording studio and a sound-isolated rock and percussion suite to support bands and soloists who want to make some noise. 

Director of Music Mark Forgen says that all Year 9 pupils have the opportunity to study academic music in class. “Some pupils come to us with very little musical background, while others have a lot”. The Music Department’s ‘buddy’ system means more experienced pupils can help those with less knowledge. Boys who choose to pursue music at a higher level (and this year over a quarter have) go on to study the iGCSE. In Sixth Form, a number of boys choose to take the Music Pre-U. 

The school’s Composer in Residence Hywel Davies adds to the rich musicality of the setting –  his more recent ambitious projects include a sound installation with the Lower Sixth.

Tring Park School

Tring Park School

At Tring Park School for the Performing Arts, music making is a whole-hearted activity, whether or not students are specialising in musical theatre, dance or commercial music pathways offered here for 16+ (alongside acting). A lot of music that takes place is not part of formal or timetabled study. The school’s The Sixteen chamber choir (regulars in BBC Songs of Praise Senior School Choir of the Year) is made up largely of pupils who are not focusing the main part of their studies around music. 

All performances are opened to the public and students participate in many local events – younger students are stalwarts of Tring Christmas Festival. In-school shows at performance spaces such as the Markova Theatre present high-quality shows from tomorrow’s stars.  

Outreach activities happen throughout the years. While some attract young people who might be looking to take things further (for instance the Kick Start boys’ dance programme), others such as evening dance classes for people with Parkinson’s and adult dance classes in the school’s superb Park Studios work to bring music to life for a much wider audience – and show that music really is for life.

 Further reading: The importance of the arts in learning