Justine Pierre is a musician and teacher based in Dunedin, New Zealand. While her primary instrument is flute, she also teaches recorder, clarinet, ukulele and an after school programme for primary school aged children called “Let’s Make Music”. She is the Senior Tutor for Flute, Ukulele and LMM for Saturday Morning Music Classes.
- Strengthen Neurons/Brain Development
A neuron is a nerve cell which transmits information around the body (think of them as brain cells). A synapse is a connection which helps information pass from one neuron to another. Think of it like a bridge. The more the synapses are used, the stronger the bridges become. The best way to strengthen a synapse is repetition – a key factor in learning a musical instrument. The more your child practices their instrument, the stronger the synapses become and therefore the stronger the links between their neurons.
As this TED-Ed video by Anita Collins explains, playing a musical instrument uses all parts of the brain – the left hemisphere of the brain is generally used for activities like languages, mathematics and logic, while the right hemisphere is used for spatial abilities and visual imagery. This means that playing music strengthens synapses throughout the entire brain. (Click below to see video).
- Sense of Discipline and Commitment
Music lessons instil a sense of discipline and commitment in children. You cannot become good at music just turning up to a lesson once a week. Practicing at home means children learn skills such as time management (they have to juggle homework, other activities, playing with their friends). They also learn to practice effectively. To become good at playing a piece of music means you have to go over the tricky bits as well as the easy bits. This teaches children determination and tenacity – skills that are useful in a myriad of situations – school, sports, negotiating with mum for a sleepover… through music lessons children also learn how to behave appropriately. They will learn when and when not to play their instruments and that listening to others is respectful. They learn about taking turns. All these lessons can easily be transferred to other situations.
- Thinking Creatively, which Helps with Other Subjects
Music lessons help children to think creatively and problem-solve – skills that can help in other subject areas. A 2008 study shows that learning a musical instrument can help improve memorisation skills and also pattern-recognition and sequential learning needed for reading and maths. The study also found that exposure to music education is correlated with phonological awareness – the awareness of the sound and sound structure of words – an early indicator of future reading ability. Students who had musical instruction were also found to be more motivated with other learning.
See link (to study):
Musical training can also help children think creatively. Often in the Arts, there is more than one answer to a question. Sometimes this can be uncomfortable for children, particularly those who are very literal, but through music, children can be gradually introduced to different opinions or outlooks on life. Music is related to all the Arts (visual, dramatic, philosophical, historical) and by learning music children are exposed to these other Art forms and can begin to create links to all facets of life.
A 9 year old during a piano recital
Music is a way of expressing what words cannot. Written music uses a series of symbols to communicate to the player what sounds to produce. It is then up to the player to interpret these symbols, infuse them with their own emotions and express this to a listener.
Music is another tool for expression for those who cannot communicate orally. Children with special needs are often drawn to music and can become fixated with particular songs. In my experience they often love playing instruments (drums, shakers, xylophones) and will happily make up rhythms and rhymes to match their mood or feelings. Music can help with language development – it’s not uncommon for a usually non-verbal child to fixate on a song and repeat the lyrics over and over.
Learning an instrument can also be valuable for children on the Autistic Spectrum. The “rules” of music – the mathematical connection to patterns – can be soothing and the structure can appeal to these children. The British Association of Music Therapy cites other advantages such as helping children to listen, improving concentration and helping to build relationships.
Music is another way of communicating. The conductor of an orchestra communicates non-verbally to the musicians the volume, the tempo and the feel of the music. Chamber musicians communicate with each other in a similar way. For children, this helps with picking up non-verbal cues and understanding body-language.
Justine Pierre, author of this article, playing the banjo.
- Sense of Community and Friendship
Arguably the most important aspect of music lessons is the sense of community and belonging and the friendships music creates. Music caters for both the introverted and the extroverted child and encourages aspects of “the other” in all children.
The introverted child might enjoy the solitude of individual practice, yet will gain much from joining in with others in group lessons, participating in orchestras or choirs. Conversely, the more extroverted child who thrives on the social interaction music provides, will benefit from the introspection practicing by themselves provides.
In music-making, each player makes their own unique contribution to the creation of something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. In music, the players are working together to create something, and without the competitive elements of sport.
Links to follow: