Classical Music Can Break the Cycle of Poverty

The Real Cost of a Music Education

It’s unfortunate, but when finances get tight, music and music lessons are often the first thing to get cut from the budget. It’s not only unfortunate because a classical music education should be a right, it’s unfortunate because studying classical music actually gives you a financial return for your investment of money, time and effort.

Let’s imagine a 4-year-old (we’ll call him Joe), with one sibling, who is going to take piano. He’s modeled after my piano students that I’ve been teaching for over twenty years, so I have a fairly good idea of how this works. We’ll start him off with a piano (used for $2000, the price I paid for my own piano), and a half-hour of lessons a week from a good teacher at $40 per lesson (this is what I charge). Let’s also imagine that one parent making $39,354 a year, (which I’ll round up to $40,000 for ease of calculation and since that was a 2006 figure) spends a half-hour each day helping him with his piano lessons. We’ll also factor in 40 minutes a week and 20 miles a week, with gas at $3 per gallon, at an average of 25mpg.

By the time Joe begins first grade, he will be ahead by six IQ points, advanced in language and mathematics compared with his peers, and have a greater sense of self-esteem, some time management skills, and a little self-discipline. His grades and test scores will be significantly in advance of his peers, and there is every likelihood that from the beginning he will be in advanced classes, but we’ll assume he’s in regular classes and just does better on his tests.

As we follow Joe through his elementary school years, we find that he spends less time on homework, requires less supervision from his parents in order to complete his homework, does not require help as often, and the stress level in the house is considerably reduced: first, because classical music is soothing and relieves stress, and second, because nobody is yelling at Joe ten times a day to do his homework, to get his stuff together for school, to get himself out the door because we’re all going to be late, and so on, because classical music improves cooperation.

We’ll also point out that because classical music improves brain function, Joe’s immune system is better-regulated, and therefore he’s less likely to pick up every random virus from school and bring it home for everyone to catch. So we’ll say one fewer round of colds each year, and one fewer round of some other random thing.

So now Joe is 12, and let’s do a quick accounting summary so far:

Summary of Expenses and Savings to Middle School

Expenses Item Expenses Amount Savings Item Savings Amount
Piano 2,000 Doctor visits for colds etc. 3,840
Tuning 1,200 Doctor visits, adults, stress-related 1,720
Lessons 15,360 Value of time saved helping on homework 5,333.33
Value of travel time 5,333.33 Value of travel time to doctor 480
Gasoline 921.60 Gasoline (doctor) 153.60
Misc. expenses 200 Misc. expenses (toys, entertainment) 200
Value of time nagging about practicing 4,853.33 (decreases with each year) Value of time saved not arguing 29,120.00
Total 29,868.26 Total 40,846.93
Yearly average 3,733.53 Yearly average 5,105.87

Savings total for first eight years : $10,978.67 or $1,372.33 per year.

Now Joe enters middle school, or junior high, and he starts preparing for college. Again, his grades are good, so he’ll need one hour less than average per week of tutoring at $15/hour, and we add in the fact that now we’re taking him around once a month to play at senior centers and hospitals, to have volunteer work on his college application. He’s also old enough to start earning money himself to pay for his lessons, so he’s either mowing lawns, pet-sitting, doing work-study, or working for a parent or close friend doing office work, at federal minimum wage, 5.5 hours per week. We’ll also bump up his lessons to one hour a week, so now we’re budgeting $80 per week. He gets into less trouble at school because of the respect he developed in working closely with a teacher. He’s less likely to run around with the wrong crowd at school, too.

Summary of Savings and Expenses from Middle School through High School

Expenses Item Expenses Amount Savings Item Savings Amount
Piano 0 Doctor visits for colds etc. 2,880
Tuning 900 Doctor visits, adults, stress-related 1,290
Lessons 24,000 Value of time saved helping on homework 4,000
Value of travel time 4,000 Value of travel time to doctor 360
Gasoline 921.60 Gasoline (doctor) 115.20
Misc. expenses 200 Misc. expenses (toys and entertainment) 200
Value of time nagging 0 Value of time saved not arguing 32,760
Joe’s part-time income -12000 Visits with principal 720
Value of time to drive to volunteer work 9,600 Tutoring 3,600
Total 27,621.60 Total 45,925.20
Yearly average 4,603.60 Yearly average 7,654.20

Savings totals for next 6 years: $18,303.60 or $3,050.60 average per year.

Total to date: a savings of $86,772.13, averaging $6,198 per year.

Spending to date: $57,489.86. Total return on investment : $1.51 for every $1 spent.

And now, Joe is ready for college. His grades and test scores are significantly better than those of his classmates, and so he’s accepted to a better college. He also has a good chance of getting a scholarship because of the improved grades and test scores and the volunteer work. In addition, he has a valuable skill, and so he begins his time at college not working for McDonalds or waiting tables, but playing accompaniment for other students who are taking voice, flute, or some other instrument, at $20/hr. He can also play for the dance students and at theatre performances and rehearsals.

Joe also runs into less trouble at college. He’s less likely to be involved with illegal substances or activities, because of the years of self-discipline he’s managed. He requires less time to study, because he learns faster (see previous links), and so he’s able to continue to work longer hours, with better pay, than his friends. He’s not wasting his money on partying and amusement, because he doesn’t sit around passively and wait to be entertained.

Joe leaves college now, with less debt, even if he didn’t get a scholarship, because he made more money through high school and college. At an average cost of $23,712 per year, college costs total $94,848. We’ll estimate that Joe has worked 12 hours a week accompanying, at $20/hr. That gives him earnings of $240/week, $38,400. Let’s also figure in a very small scholarship, at $5000 a year, to reflect the high likelihood he’ll be offered one. That gives us another $20,000 off the total for a total debt of $36,448. Now let’s assume the parents put in only the savings from the previous 14 years to pay for school : approximately $86,000. So instead of $94,848 debt, and working 40 hours a week for a total of $290 (total of $58,000), Joe has worked 12 hours a week, at a cleaner, safer job, giving him more time to study, and has no debt.

Total saved during college: $36,448 (notice that he’s no longer taking piano lessons since he left high school, but he still plays). Total savings to date: $145,772.13.

Joe’s family has saved more than $145,000 by the time he graduates from college.

Spending to date: $39,662.60. Return is equal to $3.68 on every $1 spent.

Now Joe is off to the adult world. We’ll assume a starting salary of $40,000 In fact, over 80% of people earning over $150,000 have a school background in music.

Joe is also experiencing less stress, and therefore fewer trips to the doctor (see above for documentation).

And this continues even into Joe’s old age. In a three-year longitudinal study, seniors (average age 80) who began singing as seniors reported ten fewer doctor visits per year. That’s another $600 per year saved. As I make time, I will continue to post about the benefits of classical music to seniors; the research takes up almost an entire drawer of a filing cabinet, and that’s just what I’ve stumbled across randomly.

And now let’s take a look at the larger savings. Joe is less likely to be convicted of a crime, therefore he’s less of a drain on the police, courts, legal and prison systems. He’s less likely to be involved with abuse of substances or alcohol, and so there’s less of a drain on the medical and insurance systems. He makes more money, and therefore pays in more taxes. He’s healthier, and again less of a drain on the medical system and insurance system. And when it comes to his final days, he’s likely to have postponed Alzheimer’s disease by at least five years, saving his family thousands of dollars in costs (because he’s more likely to die than to get Alzheimer’s if it’s put off by a few years).

The fact is, when even one child takes classical music lessons, everyone saves money. The more children take it, the better our schools are, the better education we all receive, we have less crime, and therefore we all pay fewer taxes, because we’re using fewer resources, we’re healthier, we have less stress, and so everyone benefits. Can you imagine the effects, if, instead of just Joe, everyone could have these benefits as a right?

So, one way to combat poverty, if you can, is to give every child in your life classical music lessons. It worked for Venezuela!

This post is in support of blog action day, to end poverty globally!

One Reply to “Classical Music Can Break the Cycle of Poverty”

  1. One of my readers, Jan Zbiciak Brummett, sent the following:

    A thoughtful and useful post.

    Some notes I made while reading…

    I see that you mentioned this item in the college years, but it is also true, much, much earlier… as kids are often led astray well before that time, often out of boredom and by peers. Idle, energetic hands are apt to find some outlet for all of that energy; predictably it will be spent either positively or all too often expressed negatively. By providing suitable, intelligent and creative outlets, parents and schools are actually directing energy into useful and beneficial sources, both for student and for the culture as a whole. Teaching a child to “play” with imaginative resources, encourages an inspired, bright, able, problem solving adult.

    Social perks: if Joe is preoccupied with an activity that he loves and one which fascinates him, as an active, highly energetic young person (characteristic of the typical middle school student) he is also much less likely in the earlier years to be distracted and misdirected or self-directed into activities such as vandalism and/or experimenting with drugs and sex.

    Habits such as these will also be passed on to Joe’s children as he continues to fill his adult life with productive practices which he developed very early in his life. Patterns of productive, positive activities will be overtly or inadvertently passed on to those around him and will influence others simply by his behavior.

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