[Position Paper]

Extrinsic Versus Intrinsic Benefits: Challenging Categories Used to Define the Value of Music in Schools

By Alexander Hew Dale Crooke


Increasing pressures to justify the value of music in schools over recent decades has led to the construction of three distinct areas of benefits: intrinsic (or musical) benefits, extrinsic benefits related to academic and/or cognitive development, and extrinsic benefits related to psychosocial wellbeing. While some argue these categories have been useful for identifying specific areas of value and enabling targeted advocacy approaches, others have challenged this segmented approach to justification. While the most strident point of contention stems from the perception that categories which champion non-musical (extrinsic) benefits have led to the devaluing of musical (intrinsic) benefits, others dispute the categories themselves. Such arguments question the ability to separate what have been categorised as musical and non-musical elements, particularly in relation to social and political elements. This paper aims to tease out the practicality of these existing categories, and in doing so, challenge their robustness in both form and definition. The argument is made that current attempts to separate the value of school-based music into distinct categories is not only unclear, but also unhelpful in areas of advocacy. This argument rests on the premise that musical participation affords opportunities to enrich human experience in holistic and integrated ways, and that categorisation serves to preclude this unique value.

Keywords: intrinsic benefits, extrinsic benefits, music education, musical benefits, school music

Editorial note: In 2016, Voices hosted a special edition to accompany the launch of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the topic of "How Music Can Change Your Life". Thirteen authors agreed to develop position papers for the MOOC, with two articles being developed to accompany each of the six topics within it. Each author has highlighted the theorists and researchers who have influenced their thinking, and included references to their own research or music practices where appropriate. These papers have been written with a particular audience in mind—that is, the learners who participate in the MOOC, who may not have had previous readings in any of the fields being canvassed. We hope that you find these articles interesting, whether reading as a MOOC learner, a regular VOICES reader, or someone who is discovering VOICES for the first time.


Three main categories have been used to shape the increasingly popularised debate about music in schools, and to some degree, the arts more generally. These three categories refer to the perceived benefits of musical participation for students, and include intrinsic (or musical) benefits, extrinsic benefits related to academic and or cognitive development, and extrinsic benefits related to psychosocial wellbeing. These categories are employed as a tool to articulate when, where, and why music should be supported in educational contexts across many fields, including policy, music education, and music psychology. The use of these categories makes it possible to target arguments to different audiences (Taylor, 2008), and have therefore become catchcries for advocacy in this area. The effect is palpable, since these categories have helped gain public, media, scholarly, and policy attention for debates surrounding the place of music in schools (Schellenberg & Winner, 2011).

While these categories have no doubt been useful for both advocacy and mapping the field in relation to research, they have also been the source of much debate and scrutiny. Much of this has stemmed from the perception that both advocacy and contemporary programs focus too heavily on the instrumental nature of extrinsic benefits, and neglect the inherently artistic or musical nature of intrinsic benefits (Stewart, 2007). While some authors perceive the argument for extrinsic benefits as valuable for informing the argument that musical participation can “contribute to the global development of the person” (Biasutti & Concina, 2013, p. 397), others suggest this has lead to an over emphasis on valuing musical participation as an means to achieve non-musical ends.

Another, less visible criticism, questions the validity of the categories themselves. For example, some authors suggest such categories promulgate a false understanding that music is disconnected from social, personal and cultural factors (Bowman, 2007; Jorgensen, 2007). This paper presents further explorations of these criticisms, and tests the robustness of the categories – both in terms of how they are used in current literature, and what they say about the links between music and the human condition. Not only are current conceptions of the affordances of music in educational contexts deconstructed and challenged, but more holistic understandings of how musical participation can develop and enrich the lives of students and constructed.

The Three Categories of Musical Value

The value and purpose of music in schools has taken on many guises over the years, shifting to promote the different theories or agendas of the times (Jorgensen, 1995). In the early 1900s, justification relied on “Art for Art’s Sake” (Guérard, 1936) arguments, which included the primacy of aesthetic development, musical appreciation, and music as feelings (Elliott, 1994; Jorgensen, 1995). Since then, the perceived benefits of school music have expanded to include everything from physical development to imparting family morals and instilling nationalistic spirit (Stevens, 2003). However, the push for school music departments to justify their existence in the wake of neoliberal education reform (Fowler, 2002; Vitale, 2011) has crystallised arguments into three main areas: intrinsic benefits, as well as extrinsic benefits related to both cognitive and academic development, and psychosocial wellbeing. While there are slight variations to these categories (see, Ewing, 2010; McCarthy, Ondaatje, Zakaras, & Brooks, 2004), arguably, they best represent current thinking and advocacy in this area.

Intrinsic Benefits

Historically, the intrinsic value of music had been tied with the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1997). Hence, intrinsic benefits have been articulated as those specifically musical experiences that encourage one to continue engagement in music; such as experiences of “musical and aesthetic sensitivity” and the associated “enrichment of inner life” (Dai & Schader, 2001, p. 23). However, given increasing needs to justify the value of music in education, and society more generally (Edwards, 2011), the intrinsic value of music has more recently referred to the benefits of musical participation that are specifically musical in nature. These have often been described in general terms as about learning and experiencing music, and aligned closely with the more classical values of aesthetic development (Jorgensen, 1995).

Yet in recent decades, intrinsic benefits have grown to encompass the ideas that musical participation: “draws on a range of learning styles, fosters creativity, imagination and emotional responsivity” (Gill & Rickard, 2012, p. 61); provides unique opportunities for experiencing our world, understanding our own humanity, communicating and expressing ourselves (Parliament of Victoria, 2013); and has the ability to help us connect to our social world, understand culture (our own and others), develop and experience our emotions and spirituality, discover ourselves, build interpersonal relationships, construct and partake in socio-cultural rituals, and build civilisation (Taylor, 2008). Invariably, the innate joy of musical experience is added to this list.

Evidently, contemporary descriptions of the intrinsic benefits of musical participation are far-reaching. Hence, to define what intrinsic benefits are, many authors have focused on identifying what they are not. These efforts have often been expressed via dichotomies. While Reimer (1989) expresses this as honestly philosophical (intrinsic) versus efficaciously practical (extrinsic) pursuits, Fowler (2002) sums it up as the aesthetic versus the instrumental. Taylor extends on both, describing it as a dichotomy between an intangible, aesthetic and subconscious sense of reality versus one that is pragmatic, definable and rational; and further that the intrinsic benefits are “the qualities that can't necessarily be displayed in a chart or studied in a laboratory” (Taylor, 2008, p. 37).

Extrinsic Benefits

Associated with efforts to clarify what intrinsic benefits are not, scholars have identified many elements that constitute the extrinsic benefits of musical participation. These are described as the benefits that musical participation has in areas of a student’s life not uniquely bound to music, such as academic performance or wellbeing. Given these areas are described as being above and beyond any distinctly musical realm, they are sometimes referred to as extramusical. Other times they are referred to as nonmusical (Schellenberg, 2001) benefits, illustrating a perception of them being the associated effects of musical participation – or even “non-musical side effects caused by the exposure to music” (Stewart, 2007, p. 4). Schellenberg and Winner’s suggestion that educators, policymakers and the media often see these benefits as a “welcome by-product of sending children to music lessons” (2011, p. 129) speaks to the popularity of this perception.

The idea of transfer of benefits provides a more considered account, conceptualising extrinsic benefits less as by-products, and more as a logical extension of distinct processes associated with musical participation (Forgeard, Winner, Norton, & Schlaug, 2008). As Biasutti and Concina (2013) suggest, rather than being a result of mere passive exposure, these social and cognitive benefits are the product of engaging in certain musical processes that either mirror (non-musical) cognitive processes or engender personal development in other (non-musical) areas. Vitale (2011) describes these as ancillary benefits, those things that can be extracted from the core elements of musicking (i.e. making, listening to, performing, appreciating, and sharing music) and applied to other areas.

Whether considered happy coincidences or logical downstream effects, extrinsic benefits are considered benefits that can be achieved in other ways, but which music may act as an instrument to access. Such benefits are frequently used to argue a place for music in schools, as they offer justification based not on the value of the Arts, but on development in “fields such as math, science, and engineering: three fields of study that are highly valued by society” (Taylor, 2008, p. 36). Thus, where these highly valued benefits are concerned, musical participation can be seen as playing an instrumental rather than essential role.

Academic and cognitive. Extrinsic or ancillary benefits are often divided into two main categories, those related to cognitive development and academic achievement, and those related to psychosocial wellbeing. The former of these is consistently cast as the most notorious (Vitale, 2011). Not only has literature discussing associated claims flourished over the last 20 years, experts note this field unique in that equal interest has been shown from academic, public and policy spheres (Schellenberg & Winner, 2011). Driven by the hype of the “Mozart Effect” (Helding, 2014), and personified in “music makes you smarter” campaigns, these benefits have become the centre for numerous movements, music programs, books, and national curriculums (Stewart, 2007).

This wide-ranging interest stems from findings that suggest musical participation can elicit development in two main areas, cognitive development and academic performance (although the two are often used interchangeably). Regarding cognition, claims include the idea that musical training can increase memory (Rickard, Vasquez, Murphy, Toukhsati, & Gill, 2010) brain plasticity (Moreno et al., 2009), IQ (Hallam, 2010), spatiotemporal reasoning (Črnčec, Wilson, & Prior, 2006), and executive function (Hargreaves & Aksentijevic, 2011). In respect to academic performance, musical training is reported to enhance performance and achievement in verbal ability (Forgeard et al., 2008), literacy (Kennedy & Scott, 2005), language development (Lorenzo, Herrera, Hernández-Candelas, & Badea, 2014), mathematical skills (Santos-Luiz, 2007), and is associated with higher general test scores in subjects such as science and history (Wallick, 1998).

While numerous studies have found strong correlational associations between musical participation and these academic and cognitive benefits, studies aimed at identifying causal relationships have had less success (Mehr, Schachner, Katz, & Spelke, 2013; Schellenberg & Winner, 2011). Thus, much of the academic community now cautions against the idea that “music makes you smarter” and instead suggests correlational factors may explain observed associations (Schellenberg, 2011a). Some policy-based literature has followed suit, decentralising the role that these benefits play in advocating for music in schools (Crooke, Smyth, & McFerran, 2016). Nevertheless, these extrinsic benefits remain prominent in public consciousness and advocacy.

Psychosocial. School-based musical participation has also been linked to a number of student wellbeing benefits. Under headings such as psychosocial (Gill & Rickard, 2012), social-emotional (Devroop, 2012), or simply wellbeing (Wills, 2011), such benefits have been described variously in terms of personal development (Hallam, 2010), psychosocial functioning (Rickard et al., 2012), psychological benefits (Knox-Anderson & Rickard, 2007), emotional development (Teachout, 2005), and life skills (MCEETYA & CMC, 2007) . More specifically, these include everything from: increased confidence (Vaughan, Harris, & Caldwell, 2011), self-esteem (Rickard et al., 2012), and pro-social behaviour (Rickson & Watkins, 2003); to increased coping skills, cooperation, and school engagement (Gill & Rickard, 2012); as well as reduced problem behaviour, anxiety, and depressive symptoms (Parliament of Victoria, 2013); and increased group, personal, and social identity (Australian Government, 2005).

Following the logic of those who argue for the primacy of intrinsic benefits, such as Stewart (2007) and Gee (2006), the above benefits are extrinsic because they are not directly related to the “components and structures intrinsic to music making, […] the ability to think and act in musical terms, [or] the creation and recreation of music itself” (p. 2). Perceivably, they are also considered extrinsic because they are most commonly the province of student counsellors, school psychologists, and wellbeing teams, and could similarly be addressed through other means such as team sports or peer support programs.

Nevertheless, while musical participation is not considered the only way to facilitate student development or wellbeing, there is a growing expectation that it will achieve these personal benefits. Consequently, advocacy in some spheres has increasingly argued for the place of music in schools based on these extrinsic psychosocial benefits (Crooke et al., 2016).

Challenging the Categories

Challenges to using the above categories often critique the increasing focus on extrinsic benefits. This is crystallised around the notion that music has become valued for what it can do in non-musical areas, not for being music (Stewart, 2007; Vitale, 2011). Many argue this devalues the intrinsic value of music, and subjugates it to the importance of “commercial, sociological, economic, or political benefits or uses” (Gee, 2006, p.2). As Taylor wrote, “the pitfall of relying heavily or exclusively on extrinsic arguments in music advocacy is music risks becoming being seen as the means to an end rather than the end itself” (2008, p. 37).

Although most criticism has been levelled at this singular focus on extrinsic benefits in school-based advocacy, a more fundamental critique of these benefits can be made about the legitimacy of segregating and categorising benefits (Bowman, 2007; Jorgensen, 2007). This legitimacy can be challenged in two ways. The first is the way in which these categories have been used in the literature, both in regards to their inconsistency of definition and overlap at the conceptual level. The other refers to the question of whether these categories represent an artificial or manufactured separation that ignores the innate nature of music, and limits the unique potential it affords in educational settings.

Inconsistency Within Categories

The first way in which the legitimacy of the three categories can be challenged is by looking more closely at how the intrinsic benefits are defined and described. As identified above, the intrinsic benefits of musical participation are those that are considered to be inherently musical. Yet, despite several impassioned arguments for the merits of intrinsic benefits (Gee, 2006; Stewart, 2007; Vitale, 2011), no solid or consistent definition of this category of benefits is provided.

In absence of concrete demarcation, what can we really understand of how extrinsic benefits are distinct from others? From the descriptions above, it would appear that they are those that are distinctly musical, endemic to musical participation, or even inseparable from music. This strictly musical classification does appear consistent with the intrinsic benefits explicitly associated with experiences of listening to, making, and learning about music (Gill & Rickard, 2012). This includes the acquisition of practical musical skills (music training); the ability to express oneself musically; gaining knowledge of musical aesthetics, form and theory; and the ability to appreciate musical skills, performances, styles, genres, cultures and aesthetics. The benefits of taking part in these activities are the ability to learn about, appreciate, enjoy, and participate in the acts of music making or listening. By their nature, each of the benefits could not exist without the idea of music itself, and are therefore theoretically inseparable from music.

Yet, other intrinsic benefits described in the literature are uniquely bound to musicking, but not necessarily musical themselves. These include development in areas of creativity, imagination and the ability to express, understand, and respond to emotions (Gill & Rickard, 2012). While these are considered inseparable from, or inextricably linked to, the act of musical engagement, they are not specifically unique to music, per se (or even the arts). Therefore, while musical participation is in a unique position to foster their development, these are benefits that can be gained in other ways. Considering that the same could be said for several extrinsic benefits (i.e. brain plasticity or social connectedness), this questions the conviction with which these benefits can be considered truly intrinsic to musical participation. While this ambiguity could be taken as a call to crystallise definitions, it can also be seen as indicative of the difficulty in making such concrete clarifications in this area.

Inconsistent Use of Terminology When Defining Categories

The difficulty encountered when trying to delineate the boundaries of each category becomes evident when exploring the particular benefits or constructs listed in each. Perhaps the most obvious example is “creativity”. While this is fervently claimed as one of the primary intrinsic benefits related to music and other arts-based school programs (Ewing, 2010), it is often also listed among the many extrinsic benefits related to academic achievement (Hallam, 2010; Vitale, 2011). Indeed, it has also been mentioned within the extrinsic psychosocial category (Gill & Rickard, 2012).

Similarly, while “emotional expression” is consistently listed an intrinsic benefit (Gee, 2006), some also described it as a psychosocial benefit (Vaughan et al., 2011). Similar discrepancies between the intrinsic and extrinsic categories are also apparent in the use of the terms “cognitive growth”, “social bonds”, and “empathy” (McCarthy et al., 2004). There is also inconsistency around extrinsic benefits, for example, “social competency” is seen as belonging to both cognitive (Biasutti & Concina, 2013) and psychosocial categories (Ewing, 2010).

Blurring the Lines Between the Intrinsic and Extrinsic

While many of the above inconsistencies may be seen to represent a shared use of terminology, delving deeper suggests it may be better explained by significant overlap at the conceptual level. Potentially, this overlap can be explained by what authors such as Taylor (2008) call the “symbiotic” relationship between the intrinsic and extrinsic categories. Such symbiosis is observable between intrinsic benefits and elements described within both psychosocial and academic/cognitive categories. This not only detracts from the clarity around given categories, but significantly blurs the lines which have been set up to separate them in recent literature.

Music and Emotion

One obvious point at which the distinctions between extrinsic and intrinsic categories become hazy relates to the idea of emotion. The link between musical participation and emotion is central to many descriptions of intrinsic benefits. This includes the ability to express emotions and feelings musically, as well as the ability to understand and respond to emotions represented within or by music (Taylor, 2008). This includes both the emotions of others expressed in musical form, as well as one’s own emotions which emerge during, as a response to, or are shaped through the act of musicking (Gee, 2006; Stewart, 2007). The intrinsic nature of this relationship rests on the understanding that music, like most art forms, can be seen as a product of emotion: it contains, reflects, expresses or portrays a certain feeling of the person or people playing or creating it. It also affords an opportunity for the listener (or player) to connect with their own emotions which are recognised in or through the music. Music and emotion are inherently related, and in this way, the relationship is intrinsic.

Yet, descriptions of the extrinsic psychosocial category also contain many references to emotion. This includes the ability for musical participation to afford emotional development (Kim et al., 2006), enhance emotional sensitivity (Hallam, 2010), augment emotional intelligence (Schellenberg, 2011b), provide an outlet for emotional expression, or simply increase emotional wellbeing (Parliament of Victoria, 2013; Vaughan et al., 2011). Such references to emotion in this extrinsic category should not be surprising, for the very nature of psychosocial wellbeing – when understood as our subjective evaluation of ourselves and our social world (Keyes, 1998, 2002) – is mediated, expressed, and understood via our emotions. Indeed, the term psychosocial wellbeing is often used interchangeably with social and emotional wellbeing (AIHW, 2012; Hamilton & Redmond, 2010; Vincent, 2005).

It would seem then, the relationship between musical participation and emotion, even when viewed through this extrinsic psychosocial lens, is also inherent. Considering the crossover identified here, maintaining a robust separation between intrinsic and extrinsic conceptualisations of the relationship between music and emotion – and the categories themselves – becomes questionable. Arguably, this crossover moves past the symbiosis described by Taylor (2008), and demands instead an integrated understanding of the role that music can play in the emotional realm of student experience, and vice-versa.

Music as Intrinsically Social and Cultural

Several music education scholars offer an integrated perspective regarding the social, political, and cultural benefits of musical participation. While Gee explicitly places all “sociological, economic, or political benefits or uses” (2006, p. 2) of music in the extrinsic category, Jorgensen (2007), Koza (2010), and Bowman (2007) question whether these elements can ever be located outside of the realm of what is truly musical about musical participation. Koza argues that it is the very aesthetics and stylistic elements of music, along with issues of preference and access in education settings, which make music unavoidably political. Such musical elements reflect race, culture, and social structure, while access to training and programs enact privilege and discrimination.

Citing Dewey’s (1980 [1934]) premise that art cannot be disconnected from the totality of human experience, Jorgensen (2007) also argued that the social and political implications of musicking are inescapable. This is particularly so in schools where access to particular genres, instruments, curricular, and extracurricular programs, all reflect social biases and stratifications which are perpetuated and further reflected through privilege and suppression. Using the United Nations’ (1959) mandate that all children have the right to know the music of their cultural background as an example, Jorgensen argued the nature and content of school music provision is a matter of basic human rights.

Bowman (2007) also contends that musical participation is bound with cultural and social identity through the type of music that is practised:

[…] the importance of conceiving of music as an ethical enterprise [and] that conceiving of music as a social rather than an individually receptive or formalist/expressionist or idealist phenomenon, draws people and culture into the musical picture. And music, unless I am very much mistaken, is a ubiquitously human undertaking. Thus, a tremendously important part of what we exclude from musicianship and music study and music teaching when we view them through generic “aesthetic” lenses are the people of whose culture and lives musical engagements form vital parts. The people we presume to educate become incidental to the professional practice of music education. (p. 117)

These views not only show the inextricable links between musical participation and the social nature of human beings, but also point to the role of music in pursuing (or preventing) social justice in school settings. They also bind together musical elements described as intrinsic (such as culture, identity, expression, aesthetics) and locate them not outside of (or extrinsic to) music itself, but rather as indivisibly linked to the internally personal and externally social contexts in which they exist.

Music, Learning, and Academics.

The idea of learning represents another point at which the line between extrinsic and intrinsic benefits becomes faint. Strictly speaking, the educational benefits of musical participation in school are, at first glance, clearly demarcated. In intrinsic musical terms, they are learning about music itself (i.e. musical skill, aesthetics, and history), as well as things such as creativity (Gill & Rickard, 2012; Parliament of Victoria, 2013). Meanwhile, in extrinsically academic (Gill & Rickard, 2012) or cognitive (Ewing, 2010) terms, benefits are described as the enhancement of skill or learning in non-musical areas (i.e. math, science, language).

According to the literature, these extrinsic benefits of learning rest on the ability for students to apply or transfer mathematical (i.e. pitch, tempo, rhythm), linguistic (intonation, cadence, articulation), and scientific (form, structure, space) concepts or abilities learnt through music to other non-musical areas (Hallam, 2010; Hanley, 2000). This is not in itself particularly problematic (although associations are still under investigation; see Gill & Rickard, 2012), yet it rests on the assumption that the learning of these concepts is of most academic value when it is applied to extrinsic or non-musical areas. This, in turn, implies that these concepts can be separated from music. In one way, this is true: it can be argued that all of these things (i.e. form, structure, language, pitch) exist in non-musical form. However, this becomes problematic when we attempt to separate music form these concepts, as without these different elements, music would not exist. Thus, the academic or cognitive nature of music, if it is defined by a relationship to mathematical, linguistic, and scientific elements, is inherently intrinsic.

Integrating the Intrinsic, the Academic, and the Socio-Political

The above points can be extended via philosophical engagement with what we consider to be important learning for students. The conceptualisation of what commonly constitutes academic or important learning, which is mentioned above (i.e. in areas of math, science, and language), is shaped by socio-political discourse. In societies where neo-liberal or neo-social policy dictates the approach to education and mass schooling, learning is considered most important when it links clearly to job acquisition and economic participation (Fox Piven, 2004; Lingard, Sellar, & Savage, 2014). Yet, if we are to take a broader view of how schools can educate our students, and see their role more broadly as teaching our children to be in the world, then we can see that the academic benefits of music extend far beyond the realm of math, science and the acquisition of spoken and written language (Watson, 2003; Wyn, 2009). As articulated through accounts of the intrinsic, psychosocial and cognitive/academic benefits provided above, musical participation offers opportunities to learn how to be with others and ourselves; it offers opportunities to practice expression and understanding; it offers opportunities to experience and recognise beauty, pain, love, and despair; and it has potential in helping students engage with learning in other areas.

If we are to expand our perceptions of what learning should entail, music offers an academic experience that includes all of the above. This symbiotic, integrated, and even holistic view not only provides the strongest argument for why music can help students, but also warns against attempts to separate and allocate the value and benefits of music to discrete areas. To do so not only risks simplifying the value of music, but potentially precludes the most persuasive argument of all: while many of the so-called benefits of music may be accessed in other ways, few human activities offer such an integrated and engaging way of accessing them. Music is a uniquely human phenomenon, and in being musical, we can access much of what it means to be human.


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