It’s been a long, draining school day. The boy in the waiting room clutches his trumpet case. His eyes are weary; sleep tugs at his lids. The screen time today has been excessive; even his gym teacher found a way to put him in front of a computer this morning. He couldn’t look at another screen today if he tried.
In a few minutes, his music instructor will call him into a practice room for his lesson. He has been waiting for this all day. All week.
When he pulls out his trumpet, he will use all of his brain.
He will use his eyes to read the music and his teacher’s face. He will use his hands and mouth to make sound. He will use his ears to hear the notes — the story of the song. Both his creative side and his logical side will be engaged as he reads and performs the music for his teacher.
And what happens in that room is just the beginning. The patience, persistence and discipline required to learn and play music well sets a child up for a lifetime of success. When this boy’s parent signed him up for music lessons, he signed him up for more than he could ever have realized.
In a masked world that can feel awfully lonely, music brings us together. Sheila Vale, director of Indian Springs Academy of Music in Cincinnati, says that music lessons, both virtual and in-person, offer children the opportunity to have a productive relationship with an adult person who is not a parent.
The process of learning an instrument, and then learning to play music is challenging and time-consuming. Students must also have a passion for music in order to stick with it.
“One needs a lot of patience, discipline, strength and dedication to become a musician,” says Judy Yin-Chi Lee, director of community engagement for New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. “For a kid to learn how to play an instrument, she is taught to have the patience, and to never give up when things get hard in order to succeed. That is an important life lesson.”
Playing music requires the whole brain. “Learning how to play an instrument is the best way to exercise and strengthen brain muscles that typically aren’t used simultaneously,” Yin-Chi Lee says. “In order to sound an instrument, you have to use your eyes to read the music, your hands [and sometimes feet] to operate the instrument, your ears to listen. And all at the same time.”
Studying the history of music from around the world opens children up to new ways of understanding and perceiving.
Students might encounter different sounds while studying and playing their method books. They may play an American folk song one day and an Asian song the next. Then when studying how history and culture intertwine with the music of a place and time, students have a broader understanding of the world.
“Great composers infused music with human experiences,” Vale says. She adds that with a students’ musical maturation comes a greater understanding of historical perspective.
“Music opens up one’s mind to be receptive of differences, and they learn to appreciate different cultures,” Yin-Chi Lee says.
Music is a universal language. Music puts sound to both feeling and experiences; it connects people (and sometimes animals) when words cannot.
Music makes words unnecessary, but when they are, music can help with that, too. It turns out that studying music can actually strengthen a child’s foundational literacy skills. According to a 2007 Northwestern study, music training — with its effect on students’ understanding of sight and sound — may be more enhancing for verbal communication skills than phonological studies.
In addition, musicians become practiced communicators when working with one another and alongside each other.
“Music is a powerful connector,” Vale says. “They say if you play music, then you have friends all over the world.”
There are so many reasons to hand your child an instrument and to invest in lessons. At this time, when the world can feel like a pretty scary place, especially to a child, music lessons can serve as a way for children to connect and channel their feelings in a beautiful way.