Music as a Career Development Tool

By Herky Cutler

Why Use Music?

Music is a huge part of a teenager's life. Many teens listen to music all day, in school or out, for a variety of reasons. They listen to relax, to escape boredom, to wake up, to motivate themselves, to forget about their problems and to help create their personal identity. The Greek Philosopher Plato said:

"Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just, and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate and eternal form."

Music is universal and found in every culture. It is known to have a soothing effect on the spirit, and to stimulate intellectual development. Studies have shown that music can increase mathematical ability, reading comprehension and reasoning skills. So why not extend its use to the career planning process by infusing music in the high school curriculum?

The "Career and Life Management" or CALM course in Alberta, Canada schools is an important course in the high school curriculum. It is the only required high school course in the Alberta Learning curriculum which offers students the opportunity to explore various aspects of their lives, including their career path and the world of work. In the careers section of CALM, students use computer-based career interest inventories to assess their values, interests, skills and attributes.  My experience as a teacher, counselor and consultant working in schools, has shown me that students pay little, if any attention to this process, and are only really concerned with the list of occupations they receive as a result of their labor. This often translates into students' disengagement from the process. However, the use of music in conjunction with these inventories helps to engage students, and helps them identify their interests, values, and passion.  

Using Music in the Career Planning Process

Within the CALM curriculum there are many ways to use music that teenagers resonate with to help them with their career path. One technique is to have them share a song that "moves" them, a song that has an emotional impact on them and not one that they just appreciate for the beat or because of the band that is playing it. Having a discussion around why and how this song moves the listener will reveal much about their personality, their values, interests and passion.

Another technique which works exceptionally well in group situations, is to have students declare what musical genres they have a tendency to listen to. They can do this by standing next to a poster on a wall that has a series of genres written on it. An example of such a poster might have "country, bluegrass and swing" written on it. Once the students have stood by their preferred genres, each group then brainstorms a list of characteristics that people who listen to that genre might have. So, in the previous example, students would record all the things that would describe people who listen to country, bluegrass or swing music. By doing this, they would also be describing themselves as they are part of the group that listens to those genres. The result of this activity is increased self awareness which is crucial when making career choices.

These are just two examples of how to use music in a high school curriculum. Other ways in which music could be used are:

  • Have students research the career paths of their musical heroes
  • Finding examples of songs about occupations in a chosen field
  • Discussing songs about work one would NOT want to do

Using music to help high school students with their career exploration will engage them, and offer tremendous insight as to who they are and what is meaningful to them. Using music as a career development tool is a novel approach that will give students a solid foundation from which to explore a multitude of career options utilizing what they value, that is, music.

Herky Cutler is the President of Foothills Youth & Family Services in Southern Alberta and is a Certified Career Practitioner, Organizational Consultant and Professional Speaker/Facilitator. He has developed a number of innovative tools and resources related to career exploration.  He can be reached at 403-627-5044 or fyfs@telus.net

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