Benefits of Learning Music

My sister recently posted this excellent article regarding the benefits of learning music. Please read the whole thing here. While the article raises many excellent points, there were several that stood out to me.

Music can be relaxing and helps with emotional development.

As a mother of two young children (my daughter is ten and my son is seven), life can become pretty stressful at times. Over the past year, I have gotten remarried, sold my house, bought a house with my new husband, moved, changed careers and the kids have changed schools. With all of these transitions comes a lot of stress. I find that when I am overwhelmed with emotion, sitting down and playing my piano becomes my outlet for releasing those feelings.

Whether it be an outflow of joy around Christmastime or a well-needed cry and release of tension, sorrow and/or anger, my piano delivers. Playing my piano has become my favorite form of therapy. Hans Christian Anderson said, “When words fail, music speaks.” Some people need to have a heart-to-heart chat with a friend; and while I do enjoy an intimate conversation with someone I trust, sometimes words just are unable to convey what I am feeling.

While listening to music can evoke emotion, being able to produce music oneself has a cathartic effect. I can listen to a recording of “The Storm” by Frederick Burgmuller, but the act of using my own two hands to create “The Storm” allows me to enter in to the scene and to participate. When I need to express sorrow, I can turn to Chopin or Tchaikovsky. When I am overwhelmed by the beauty and wonder of the Lord, worship music is my go-to.

Was I appreciative of this ability as a child? Of course not. I did not always happily practice the piano when my mother instructed me to. In fact, I remember tears being shed or angry words being spoken towards my mother for making me practice. And yet, as an adult, this outlet is invaluable to me. Which leads me to my second point.

Musical instruments can teach discipline. 

Parents often struggle with the dilemma of “should I insist that my child practice?” Let me ask you this: do you insist that your children brush their teeth? Of course you do. Because you know that your children brushing their teeth is important for healthy development. Do you require that your children clean their room or help with chores around the house? To do their homework? I would hope so. Why? This teaches discipline.

We are doing our children a disservice if we are doing everything for them, rather than equipping them with the skills to complete tasks themselves. We need to teach our children that sometimes, (oftentimes!) they will have to do things that they do not want to do. Welcome to the real world. No one is going to be there for them when they go to college to pick up their belongings or to do their laundry, or to study for them. They can learn early on to be independent and to be disciplined in their daily routines. If they can push buttons on a computer, tablet, phone or gaming device, then they can also learn to push buttons on the washing machine, dishwasher, microwave, and vacuum cleaner…or the keys on the piano, for that matter.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I want music to be fun. I incorporate many, many games into my lessons and I believe that even practice sessions can be fun if parents get creative. As Mary Poppins said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and…snap! The job’s a game!” Children can learn to have a positive attitude about tasks that might otherwise seem tedious or repetitive. And by teaching our children to work hard even when it is not fun, they develop good work ethic and responsibility.

So yes, insist that your kids practice. You don’t have to be all Nazi Germany about it; PLEASE take breaks and time for your families when appropriate, take that vacation to the beach in the summer and don’t practice for that week. But don’t flake out and give in simply because your kid has a meltdown and says they hate you and don’t want to practice. They will thank you later, trust me.

Music builds self-confidence and encourages responsible risk-taking. 

As a child and teenager, self-confidence was something that I struggled with. I blame this partially on having two older siblings who were essentially good at everything they did and me constantly trying to keep up with them. My older brother played multiple sports and was frequently voted Most Valuable Player. My sister (and my brother also) was extremely smart and was forever earning perfect grades, winning writing contests, and singing in All-State Honors choirs. And while I played on All-Star sports teams, got good grades and sung in the All-District choir, I wasn’t THE best at those things so ya know, naturally I felt like a failure.

However, when it came to my piano playing, I possessed a confidence that I was unable to attain through other activities that I excelled in. The only explanation I can think of is that the teaching of self-confidence is built in to the Suzuki method. While my piano teacher growing up was extremely strict and demanded excellence, she was constantly providing opportunities for me to successfully practice performing.

Besides attending recitals, I was encouraged to play publicly whenever the opportunity arose: i.e. nursing homes, in front of my family/friends, at school, at church, at group lessons in front of my peers, etc. I participated in Guild performances where I played in front of a formal judge at a local college who rated me on technique, tone, dynamics, tempo and many other categories, as well as attending The Suzuki Institute at Sweet Briar College (an intense week-long music “camp” where I attended master classes with accredited teachers who helped me develop the musicality of my playing and provided more opportunities for recitals and playing in front of peers).

Was it a nerve-wracking at first? Of course. As the featured article points out, “performing a musical piece can bring fear and anxiety”, but receiving encouragement and positive feedback from many different teachers, parents, other students and judges helped my confidence to grow and I developed what I consider to be a healthy sense of pride. After awhile, I was the first one to raise my hand when asked “Who would like to play first?” If there was a piano in a room, I would immediately be drawn to it and desired to play, without being self-conscious about who was watching or listening.

I have learned that it is okay to admit to be good at something, especially when I am acknowledging the Lord as the source of my gift. God gives each of us talents and abilities to share with others. It is difficult to give glory to God for our talents if we are too embarrassed to even share them. I have realized as an adult that sometimes it is more prideful to refuse to play when asked, because I am essentially saying to myself, “I am too focused on myself and my potential for failure” and end up drawing more attention to myself with protests of self-doubt or self-deprecation.

As a teacher, it gives me great pleasure to see a child start to develop a sense of confidence and accomplishment by successfully completing or performing a piece. Encouragement, praise and toothy grins are a frequent occurrence in my studio! My ultimate goal is to bring the Lord glory, not only through my worship of Him through my own playing, but being able to unlock a child’s confidence to see how he/she is fearfully and wonderfully made and in turn, use his/her ability to glorify God also.

 

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