I really had great aspirations. No, I really did. I was going to do all of this tedious research and give you the top five studies that have shown the dramatic, profound and even incredible impact that a musical education has on children, especially on a young child. Take my word for it, it is really is pretty incredible and I was going to give you this ponderous and somewhat tedious blog post – copiously footnoted with quotes and the credentials of the quotees (Those quoted? Pontificators? Whatever). Well, that will need to wait for another week but if you do any research at all on the web you will find a surfeit of scholarly articles about how a musical education supercharges a child’s life. Higher I.Q.? You bet. Greater self-confidence? Indisputably. Improve math and science acumen? Like mini-Einsteins. Social skills, poise and ability to perform under pressure? Think Michael Buble vs. your typical code monkey (and my apologies to all you non-musician code monkeys).
So what? No one disputes the results of this research. Every single study has shown the positive value of learning to play an instrument for children but if we cannot get the instrument in the child’s hand and get music out of it there will be no benefit. We need to make sure that our kids actually get the perks of a good musical education and, unfortunately, many kids fall by the wayside early on. I’ve worked for a half dozen music stores and speak from experience. While some kids are just not going to click with a music education no matter what we do (and by the way, even if they quit after a year or two they will get a significant benefit that will stay with them for life) many more fail unnecessarily. I think that as parents and as a music community there is much we can do to greatly increase their likelihood of success.
First, please don’t sabotage a child from square one. The parent says, “We want to rent the cheapest instrument you have because I’m not sure how long little Johnny will stick with it. He’s not very disciplined and we have a closet full of projects that he has abandoned.” And little Johnny is standing right there with big ears open listening to every word. What is running through his mind? “I guess I will never be good at anything because I am just a quitter.” Wouldn’t it be better to say, “We are excited that little Johnny wants to learn how to play and we are going to start out renting a modest instrument to give him a opportunity to enjoy music. I’m sure that he is going to be successful and then we will invest in a more advanced instrument.” You’ve given the salesperson the same information and encouraged rather than discouraged your child.
Second, not all instruments are created equal. It doesn’t need to be the most expensive one but it needs to sound decent and be playable. Imagine if you first had to learn to drive on a dump truck. Enough said.
Third, who said that they need to be enraptured every second they play? The note reads, “Mr. Thompson, please excuse little Johnny from math class for the rest of the school year. He doesn’t enjoy it and our philosophy is that we don’t force our children to do anything they don’t enjoy.” How ridiculous does that sound? Is history or English or spelling or even PE optional? I have stood in the showroom and heard something like this at least a dozen times: “We will have to see if she enjoys it. She is enthusiastic now but it is too early to tell and I don’t want her to have to continue if she hates it.” If we let our children slide on chores, homework, house rules, nutrition and, yes, even music lessons they will become addicted to only doing those things they enjoy and nothing else. Not a good habit to develop. The days of music teachers rapping their pupil’s knuckles with a ruler if they don’t do something correctly are thankfully gone but a music education is, after all, an education and has value. I know that this is controversial but I think that sometimes it is more important that we be the parent more than the BFF of our child. It’s not always fun but it is necessary and since music education requires building new skills a few months is far too short a time know whether or not a child will become a competent musician. I’ve heard adults complain many times that they wish that their parents had been more diligent in making them practice when they were children. I have never, ever heard one complain that their parents should not have forced them to take music. Not one time.
Fourth, we can do more to make the music fun and I will discuss that next post.