This week we celebrate Uncommon Musical Instrument Day, a holiday that encourages you to be creative in your musical endeavors and create your very own musical instrument. But what about those common musical instruments, the piano, the guitar? Have you ever looked at a musical instrument and thought, “I wish I knew how to play that”?
My parents had me take piano as a child. And although I didn’t love it, I don’t think I hated it. In fact, the reason that I really stopped taking lessons was because I was too heavily involved in gymnastics. Or at least that’s what I remember – I was 5 at the time. But I often look longingly at the piano and wish I could just sit down and accompany myself (I’m a singer too…but that’s for another time). I even took piano in college…
So what did my parent’s know that I didn’t? Was it beneficial for me to learn a musical instrument at a young age? Let’s take a look. How could learning to fluently play an instrument as a child have helped me? How could I have benefitted from it?
For the love of the music
Billy Joel said “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” I could not agree more. I often will say to students that I am working with that kids who refuse to perform an action will be more likely to participate if you put your instruction to song.
Go ahead, try it. Also, hand a child a stick and a bowl and put on some music. What will they do? Many will hit the bowl with the stick, attempting to find the beat. Music is really within us all. There’s something about the melody and the beat…and it goes beyond just listening. The active engagement in playing has tremendous benefits for a developing child.
Reasons to Play
Since there is actually scientific evidence that has proven that playing an instrument strengthens neural pathways in the brain, let’s look at some other reasons that learning an instrument can benefit your child.
Benefits for Toddlers
Handing a toddler a musical instrument such as a tambourine or shaker can elicit a variety of positive developmental skills such as:
- Exercising motor skills through movement and dance
- Building routines and habits
- Assisting with sensory development
- Improving the development of vocabulary and expressive language
The Young Child
As your child grows they may begin to demonstrate an interest in an instrument such as piano or guitar or violin. At this slightly older age, learning an instrument contributes to:
- Increasing brain development and neural activity
- Improving hand-eye and bilateral coordination
- Improving the ability to focus
- Improving memory
Building Life Skills
Playing an instrument has so many benefits beyond the creation of music. Learning to play an instrument can:
Teach Patience and Discipline
Most kids don’t just sit down, look at a piece of sheet music and automatically know how to play it. There are numerous skills that must be developed prior to being able to fluently play. You need to learn the basics of the instrument such as finger placement and movement along the instrument.
In addition, you need to learn the art of reading music…learning the notes, the clefs, the key signature, the time signature, etc. There is a lot to it. And learning it takes patience and practice.
There is of course the fine motor coordination that is needed to have proper finger placement so that you produce the correct notes. But then you need to learn how to move at a quicker pace, as music tends to be done at an advanced speed.
Also, there is improved coordination between the eyes and hands. Think about it, you look at a piece of music and your brain has to read all of the musical information (notes, time signature, key, etc.) and then convert that information and quickly send it to the hands so that you play the correct note. There’s a lot going on “behind the scenes” if you will.
Boost self-esteem and nurture self-expression
Music also allows a child to build self-confidence. When you’re learning there are always small mistakes to be made. Learning an instrument is hard. But for some reason most kids are able to accept these difficulties and move through to learn from the mistakes. Plus, typically the end result of one stage of learning is a complete song. Have you ever been with a new learner when they are finally able to play the whole song? It’s so wonderful to watch.
Once a child figures out the mechanics of playing an instrument, they are then able play with feeling and emotion. They can ‘feel’ the music, the rhythm, the output. Their creativity suddenly can be expressed musically and they are able to pour themselves into the ‘performance’. Have you ever watched a professional musician play and just known the feelings they are emoting by watching them play? It’s truly magical.
Ultimately, with all they will learn both musically and in life, learning to play an instrument is just fun. Its fun to be able to sit down at a piano and play a tune. I know that even though I don’t play fluently, when I do sit down and play the piano, I still get a sense of pride that I know what I know.
Playing an instrument can be extremely rewarding. So, go ahead and try it out. If your child shows a interest in music, encourage their exploration and support their curiousity. You never know where it will ultimately lead. 😉