I'm With the Band: How Music Helps Students Feel Like They Belong

The Cure for the Epidemic of Loneliness Might Be Closer Than You Think

Header Image Photo courtesy of Science.org

We have a crisis of loneliness on our hands as a nation of people. Gallup research over the years has seen a very modest decline in the number of American who said “they felt lonely a lot of the day yesterday” since the pandemic ended. However, much of our world is still reeling with the effects of the pandemic and this was at a time when our society hadn’t even fully grappled with social media and what it was going to do to our nation’s mental health.

The research is in. Social media makes us all feel more depressed, more anxious, more insecure, and somehow, lonelier than we have ever been. There are too many Americans out there right now who might have 1000 Facebook friends or tons of followers on Insta, but if their car blew a tire, they don’t have anybody who is really a part of their life that can actually come and help them. They have countless followers, but they don’t have any actual friends.

musician performing on stage for a live audience
Live music is one of the last remaining communal spaces that are widely available in the modern world.

Everybody is Lonely in the Modern World

Everything That Was Meant to “Connect” Us Seems to Have Driven Us Further Apart Than Ever

Everybody is lonely in the modern world. I mean social media definitely seems to be the spark that lit the fire, but social media combined with the pandemic and the lockdowns really did a number on our sense of community and belonging. I might be the odd one out, but I still have trouble looking people in the eye and saying hello when I walk down the street anymore. I just got so accustomed to having to avoid making contact with strangers that now I’m worried I might have developed some mild agoraphobia due to being locked indoors for so long.

Can you even begin to imagine how bad the epidemic of loneliness is affecting the young people and adolescents in our country? There were at least two years of their middle/high school experience where they were totally cut off from their friends and their peer groups in favor of online courses. And while I’m sure they learned a lot of stuff that was going to be on the test, they also missed out on an enormous amount of important cultural touchstones that help move you from adolescence to adulthood.

Missing out on all the terrible first dates, the cliques and groups of friends that are formed, the structure of a social hierarchy, and all the laughs and memories they never had an opportunity to make.

But hey, if you are worried about an adolescent in your life being overwhelmed or overcome with feelings of loneliness and isolation, I actually have a solution for you today that I think you are going to love. So keep reading the article below to find out how something as simple as joining the school band can make a world of difference when it comes to defeating feelings of isolation or loneliness in your kids life by building them a strong sense of belonging.

small musician figurines on some sheet music
Everybody wants to know their place or what their role is to fill, and a band gives that to them quite literally!

The Importance of Fostering A Sense of Belonging Cannot Be Overstated

Educational Learning Spaces Operate Their Best When Everybody Feels Like They Belong

The opposite of feelings of isolation or loneliness is essentially a feeling of belonging. A sense of belonging is a basic need for humans since we evolved as essentially being pack animals. Humans are communal creatures and there’s just no escaping that fact. But when we are in a community where we don’t feel accepted, included, respected, or valued then our sense of belonging pretty much dissipates entirely. And then our sense of obligation and attachment to the community dissipate as well.

Which is a bad thing.

Having a strong sense of belonging actually pays out with all kinds of positive dividends on the other side. A strong sense of belonging brings on all sorts of positive on the job benefits, but in this article we are really trying to focus on the students, and since that is the case I feel the need to mention to you that a strong sense of belonging for a student is literally going to be make or break for them in middle/high school. A strong sense of belonging correlates with positive outcomes like better grades and high scores on tests. It also strongly correlates with having a much higher level of attending class (and participating in class when they are there) and it even seems to play some non-insubstantial role when it comes to retaining what was learned in class.

Now you’re a smart person (I mean you must be, you are reading one of my articles and idiots don’t read these things) so I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you that having better test scores, grades, higher attendance and participation, on top of a huge boost in retaining the information they learn in class is going to play a critical role in how they perform in school. Their sense of belonging is going to dramatically affect every single aspect of their academic performance.

Which sucks. Sometimes people just don’t fit in some place for no reason of their own doing. Every once in a while we all get mis-cast and end up somewhere we’re uncomfortable. But for kids in school that place they feel uncomfortable becomes their whole life essentially. They put 8 hours a day in everyday even though it's a job they don’t feel like they belong at.

And I can understand how all of this can be quite alarming as a parent. Especially any parent out there who has to pay for private school or a college education. Your kid might be at a huge disadvantage their whole life simply because their sense of belonging at school is all out of whack.

But don’t worry, there’s pretty easy cheat code to bring their sense of belonging back into its proper alignment.

black and white photo of a student orchestra
The bonds formed in class bands date back for generations in the United States.

Music Has Always Been An Avenue to Find Like Minded Communities

It Can Be Especially Effective During the High School Years

And that cheat code just so happens to be that you simply have to get them to sign up to play an instrument in the school band. Which might be a little tricky at first, but teenagers love music more than anybody else and with some savvy word play you should be able to make a pretty easy sell on this one.

See a band offers a unique environment inside of a school. It’s typically a group of 40ish students all in one room facing the conductor and they learn the different songs as a class. And each and every single member of that 40 person band is contributing. Their input is valued by all other 39 players because it harmonizes with theirs or is syncopated with their rhythm. But in some way all the different notes are working together at the same time. The same way that the forty musicians are all working together at the same time.

And this can cause an enormous swing in a person’s sense of belonging. When you are part of a group that is all working towards a singular common goal, well that is the very definition of civilization. It’s the very essence of what it means to be a community. And don’t just take my word for it. There is actual science to back this up. Music directly impacts oxytocin levels. And then as the oxytocin level rises we find ourselves more amenable and more likely to trust other people and act more generously towards others as well.

In other words, it makes us a much more agreeable member of our community. And all of that is before you even get into all the other incredible benefits that playing music can have on a adolescents development!

student playing saxophone in a school band concert
Even with all the other incredible benefits aside, man you can never beat that rush of playing in front of a live audience!

When you combine the fact that playing music has an enormous amount of positive outcomes on intellectual development in adolescents on its own with the fact that playing music in a group setting literally causes us to be more trusting and generous, on top of supporting our sense of belonging in our community—what in the world do you have to lose from signing your kid up to play an instrument at this point? I mean this is just a win, win, win in my opinion.

I personally have been playing music for over 15 years (I started in my adolescence actually) and it is a lifelong passion that all got started years ago in the school band. And now it’s something I truly love that I will always carry with me, and that was before I started researching this article and found out about all the other positive effects playing music can have on your wellbeing and your mental health!

So in my honest opinion, you would be a fool to not encourage your kid to learn to play an instrument while simultaneously helping them build a sense of community into their school day.

Anthony Stockton
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