Why kids should learn music
As an orchestra conductor, I can attest to how music has empowered my brain and changed my life.
I started out as a simple kid growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan and through music I learned the potential that I didn’t know I had.
Music is invaluable to children in many ways — brain development and growth is a major one, but there are so many other empowering ways that music will change your child’s life now and for the future.
Whether your child is a budding scientist, contractor, teacher, doctor, entrepreneur, or professional hockey player, they will have a more enriched, perceptive and creative life if they experience performing music in their youth.
Music will make your child’s life happier and give it more depth and awareness — and it will teach them to contemplate, question and create connections to make them innovative and unique thinkers.
Here are 15 ways that music will change your child’s life and make it more rich, joyful and successful:
1. Music teaches perseverance and the positive outcome of hard work
Courage, resiliency and determination are invaluable traits that build young musicians into successful adults from the ground up.
Think of the tangible feedback that kids get from learning music or playing sports. They have to work at a physical and mental skill, hour after hour — practising, persevering, and finally experiencing the achievement of the goal that they’ve been working towards.
Music teaches kids to be determined — each day to pick up their instrument and to try again. Music symbolically teaches children about the power of effort and the treasure at the end.
Every kid learns the payoff for work. Endorphins come out of the feeling of performing something that they have worked at. It’s a tangible feeling that they can hear and is directly reflected back to them for their efforts.
Music teaches us that sometimes we come up against a wall. We can’t figure out what the problem is. We still struggle. But its sound tells us when it’s right. It will not only show us in its beauty, but affirm with an inner surge of emotion. It always tells the truth.
These moments of struggle are personal in music. It’s between us and our instrument or voice. We embody both to become one. We struggle, we try, we experience — but in the end, when we perform, we let go and we accept our good and bad moments.
Music teaches us that we can practise and prepare, but in the concert (and in life) you have to keep going no matter what mistakes happen. You must trust yourself.
And in order to have a great experience in anything, you have empty yourself of judgement and just do what you love.
Who wouldn’t want that lesson to be taught to their child?
2. Kids learn to create short and long-range goals and to manage failure along the way.
Music asks us to practise and focus on details. It asks us to pay attention to the sound quality of even a single note and asks us to focus on a rhythm and work at it until we get it exactly right. Music requires precision, care and depth. Music abhors sloppiness.
But music also gives kids long range visions for the future — the goal of learning an entire piece which might only be attainable after months of work. In order to get there, they learn that they have to work at it, one phrase at a time, piece by piece. That’s what I’m doing right now as a writer, and that’s what you do every day at work.
They also learn, if they are in a school program, that they are a part of a team and that they need to work together and be responsible to each other in order to be successful. What better education for a young future entrepreneur?
And finally, music teaches kids to manage failure. Music is a constant experience of failure, walking away, coming back, trying again — until we achieve success. Failure can be small — in a practice room; or really big — on stage.
We learn to survive both…and try again.
3. Kids learn that they can transcend their own self-expectations.
There’s something about music that elevates the best in all of us. All musicians have experienced, firsthand, the transcending of their own self-expectations.
We are what we believe we are. Isn’t that the truth?
But music shows us that we can actually be more.
We practise something, we believe in a certain quality that we have, and then in performance or inspired moments of practise we go beyond where we believed we could go. As a conductor I’ve experienced this countless times with the orchestras I work with.
When you are a musician, you discover firsthand that you can do something that you didn’t believe you could do. Music, emotion, collectiveness, focus and courage can elevate us WAY beyond where we reside day to day. Through these experiences in music, we learn to believe in ourselves and to set high ideals. We learn to think and seek beyond ourselves and the everyday and think BIGGER.
You can look back and see the journey that you made.
And you can literally be on top of a mountain that you climbed yourself.
4. Music teaches us to be present.
We can only interact with music in real time. It doesn’t allow us to look back at what we just did or we will crash into the future. We can’t be ahead of it or we will forget where we are and miss playing a note.
Music is a sound-embodied experience of being present, in the moment, and to travel in real time with something — not looking back, not looking ahead.
Music teaches us to make a mistake, but to not ponder it, to keep moving. It teaches us not to get ahead of ourselves and have expectations too soon.
Things might work out as planned. They might not. But that’s life.
Live it. In the present.
5. Music is a sound-embodied reflection of our contribution to a team.
Students learn that being a part of the team is a responsibility. They learn that if they don’t practise, or if they don’t try, it impacts the group.
Music has a wide range of acceptance. In school music programs, the goal is to invite and welcome all. However, students can directly feel whether they are contributing or not. It’s tangible. They will have first-hand experience about their own responsibilities and the contribution that they make. They recognize immediately if their practise has enabled them to have success and to contribute to the team.
For those who hang on and persevere, this will be an invaluable life lesson about contributing to the world.
6. Music has awe-inspiring requirements for our brain.
Imagine that your child has to intercept and interact with the complex language of music on a page, and in real time break down each rhythm, read each note and make a myriad of successful physical and mental reactions to everything they see. All of this has to be done in FLOW.
Imagine that while your child’s brain is managing this multitude of horizontal and vertical information (rhythms, harmony, note lengths, phrases, notes) they also have to keep an eye on a conductor and both ears focussed on the musicians surrounding themselves (in order to match the same energy, pitch, and style — all requirements in music performance).
Imagine that while your child’s brain is translating the music and making it a reality, her physical body is in constant interaction with her brain to make sure that breathing, embouchure, and body position are all in optimal position to create the best sound. Your child’s brain can hear instantaneously every time it is not at its best and makes the constant necessary changes in order to constantly improve. Truly visceral feedback!
And imagine that this is only half of it. The other half is the real gold…
Now your child must take all of this information and skill, and make it real — about life, about emotion, about expression, about their own ideas.
Your child’s brain experiences an endorphin rush for each emotional climax and success, or experiences joy or melancholy in the music that understands his feelings.
And your child’s creativity spins out of her own inner well of imagination.
7. Music makes us unique thinkers.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create new circuits of growth and connection. We can grow our brains when we develop certain skills, and especially when we are young, we have incredible flexibility and potential to learn skills like language or music quickly.
As your child’s brain develops music’s unique combination of critical, creative and applied thinking, all at once, your child’s brain is growing in enormous possibility.
Let’s think about what it is that we value in our kids’s science and math education. We want our children to be able to deduce, to think about a problem and solve it, to understand process, procedure and the steps that we have to take to figure something out. We want them to learn by hypothesizing, understanding and taking action.
What is it that we value in our child’s language and humanities education? We want them to be able to communicate with clarity and style and to understand and engage with the world through the ideas, creativity and history of mankind.
We are deeply committed to the knowledge and understanding that these subjects, among others, bring to our children’s education. We also believe that we need to prioritize these subject areas as we prepare for future post-grad educations and careers and keep all options open for our kids.
I think we also recognize that knowledge is not effective if we don’t contemplate, engage, deepen, and actively interact with it in curiosity. We want our kids to be engaged and curious in their learning.
Music education is unique and powerful in that it requires creative and critical thinking in “real time” and manages right and left hemisphere brain functions simultaneously. It uses all of our brain at once. Music requires us to think in flow, in action, with feeling, all at the same time as we mathematically break down rhythms, read musical language and engage with others.
All of this is growing your child’s brain for whatever they do with their future.
Your child’s music education will enhance and enrich all of his or her important educational directions by sculpting a brain that is spontaneous, focussed, aware and engaged in real, live, creative thinking.
How is your child going to be unique in this world and stand out?
Music engages kids to think actively and not to learn passively. Young musicians create a unique path for themselves with creative and imaginative thought, by making connections that draw new conclusions, and through the curiosity and engagement with which they approach the world.
Music creates innovators.
8. Music teaches us to trust our brain.
When we learn to perform music we have to create the skills that teach us to:
- practise (hard)
- over-practise (to be sure)
- create automaticity through over-practise (now we don’t have to think)
- and then, in performing…to let go and to trust what we have learned and practised.
How great this skill of “trust” for a student who is writing an exam, conducting a job interview, playing a sport or aspiring to start any career. They will understand the secret, firsthand — that if we over-practise (a.k.a. prepare) we can create automaticity, and then trust that it is there in our brain so that we can move onto other things.
When we develop trust in ourselves, we also develop empathy for ourselves too. We learn to trust our instincts and basic skills, but we push the boundaries every time we perform to see if we can do something a little bit on the edge.
When we go out on the edge, we have to have trust. And this makes us courageous.
We even learn that if everything goes wrong and we make many mistakes — we are still standing. Life goes on. We pick up our instrument and try again.
9. Modern kids spend too much time alone. Music brings them into an inspiring group and shared experience.
If your kids are anything like mine, they spend more time on their computers than you would like. You lament the good ol’ days when kids interacted more with each other face to face and creatively came up with things to do with their friends.
Your school’s music program can be this special interaction that fosters relationships, sharing and joyful interaction with others.
And it is an interaction for life. Music is a lifelong connecting force that draws people together to experience it — whether as performers or lifelong listeners.
I started out my conducting career as a music teacher and I still have students from many years ago who remind me of the impact that music had on their lives. None of them are musicians today, and yet when they look back, the joy and happiness that they got from being in the band program remains a highlight of their childhood.
Music will always be unique and special in how it can be experienced and shared collectively, while still somehow reaching each of us directly on an intimate level.
Where else can we, as individuals be part of something that is an “us”?
10. Kids learn that they belong and to be open to others. Music is a safe and inspiring community.
For many of us, there is a careful negotiation through life with friends, relationships within family, a sense of trying to find where we fit in and how we belong. This is even more precarious for youth.
When kids play a musical instrument, they join a group of people who are aspiring, experiencing and sharing something special. This belonging gives kids a sense of identity. They have a role in a band, choir or orchestra society — they have an important part to play in it, and they are cherished for their contribution.
Most kids in band programs start when they are going through puberty. As a parent, you have signed your kid up for an experience that will give them belonging, understanding and a communication with others that makes your children feel worthwhile. Your child is a part of a community that works hard together, has goals and aspirations as a group and has real, community-oriented experiences of team emotion, hope and success.
Music teaches kids to play for each other, in front of each other, and to not judge.
(Why not to judge? Because we all know that our turn is coming.)
Music is about sharing and teaches us that in a band or choir, everyone is equal, and everyone is needed. There are stronger musicians, there are weaker musicians, some play solos, some sing the bass line, but everyone has a role to play and every instrument or voice is a part of the whole.
It doesn’t matter what differences the kids have in background, socio-economic identity or culture. As long as music instruments are made available for those who can’t afford them (as they most often are), all belong and all are equal. Music unites us.
11. Music is understanding.
When our kids go through adolescence and then carry on through adulthood, life’s complexities, sorrows, struggles, and questions are a huge part of their life.
Music is an understanding force.
When we listen to it, music seems to understand us. It understands our feelings and our mood and commiserates with us. This personal relationship gives us a stronger sense of “self” as we create an identity through our music. This is of untold value to a young person who is struggling with the challenges of life. Music will be a friend for life.
We choose our music as much as music chooses us. With each piece of music that we identify as “ours”, we go on a journey that leads us to the next one. But also, we open our perspectives when we experience music and it teaches us new understandings and fresh insights.
You might not always be able to be there for your child. But music will always be with them.
12. Music teaches empathy and openness.
As a musical “team” we all recognize the role that each musician has within the group. In adult life, each member of our business or department contributes to the overall success of our team as well. But we recognize that we have good days and bad days. Sometimes we shine and sometimes what we do is downright terrible.
In fact, the truth is, if we aren’t having terrible days, it means we aren’t pushing ourselves to do something creative and innovative — to explore beyond the boundaries of where we currently are. We need to build failure into our lives in order to have success.
Music teaches us to build confidence in ourselves and gives us the power to do that for each other. Music is a tangible sound force that shows us the difference between being empowered and being defeated. All we need to do is to listen and we will know which path we are on.
Young musicians learn first hand that we all benefit from trust, self-belief, and from supporting each other. Music is the wisdom that shows them this and opens their awareness and empathy.
Music teaches us that all people have value, that all opinions matter. Music is essentially an artistic opening to all possibility.
And music teaches us tolerance, openness, inclusion, and that there is a liberty and dignity for all.
13. We can live an expressive life through music.
Music gives us a chance to step outside of ourselves — to experience emotions that we don’t have in our day-to-day lives, to ponder or connect to how we feel.
We may give our children all sorts of rich emotional experiences within our family lives — travel, museums, hikes and a myriad of worldly experiences. For anyone that values their children experiencing sensations and emotions that are beyond the realm of their everyday existence — music is a journey into a world that we can’t find anywhere else.
Life becomes more deep and nuanced if we become aware. We can perceive and enjoy subtleties in the world around us because we become sensitive to unsaid expression and emotion. Music reveals this awareness and helps us to perceive the world in enriched ways.
In performing music, children empty themselves of the conflicts and challenges in their lives and are open to the messages and emotional experiences that the music brings them in the moment. They learn that knowledge is only one part of who they are, and come to understand, in a tangible way, the beautiful feeling of expressing themselves through music.
14. Music is Spiritualism.
Every person and family has their own belief system and identity with spiritualism.
Spirituality has a different meaning for different people. Spirituality can be found in the connection you have to your inner self. It can be found in a relationship to a presence or force that provides personal support, hope, courage, inner connection, vision, and strength.
Music connects us to the voice within. It can be a friend for life — a force that understands us, mirrors our moods when we need it, takes us to a new place when we want it to — it can be a force that guides and nurtures new thoughts and perspectives.
It can be a place where our children find a safe place to commune with an unseen, imaginative and beautiful world.
Music is a spiritual place which requires no specific religion yet gives untold wisdom.
15. Music makes life more beautiful.
By giving kids a hands-on experience of being creators and performers, rather than just passive listeners, they understand the mechanics of music from the inside-out. This will remain a part of the fabric of their life as they experience music ever after.
When kids are a part of a music program, they have a backstage pass to understanding how a rock band performs, how an artist records a song, or how their favourite singer finds the courage to perform in front of thousands of people. They can connect to their musical heroes. They learn the language of notes and rhythms which enriches and deepens their own relationship to music for their lifetime.
Making music is the experience of a journey — a stepping “inside” of the challenges, emotions and sharing of life. And this journey will impact and change the way young people experience and direct their lives, no matter what direction they go in with their careers and futures.