The benefits of learning an instrument are gravely underestimated in our society. It is the first subject to be cut in our schools yet, it has the most effect on our ability to learn. There is no other subject that can exercise as many areas of the brain or provide as much benefit as music does. Though it may not be as important as math, science, and language, music has the ability increase our ability to comprehend them all. This is because music is the only activity capable of exercising all these areas SIMULTANEOUSLY!
Here are some of the skills I feel are used and developed when studying an instrument:
1. Attention Span – It takes an uninterrupted stream of thought to play a song. There are many things to concentrate on when performing a piece of music. Any thought other than what you’re doing usually results in a mistake. Performers must have complete focus complete a song from start to finish.
2. Reading Skills – Just as we learn to read in our language we also learn to read music. Although unlike reading words, in music you also have to read at a set speed or tempo, making it even more difficult. A musician must read and comprehend pitch and rhythm and apply it instantly to their instrument.
3. Math Skills – The study of rhythm in music does wonders for math skills. Rhythm is the study of time and its division. Music is broken into equal pieces of time called measures. Each measure can be divided into infinite numbers of combinations of sound and silence. A musician must use geometrical skills as well as fractional and basic math skills in order to learn and perform songs correctly.
4. Language and Listening Skills – We have all heard the phrase: “Music is the universal language” and it is true. All languages are just rhythm and pitch, the 2 basic components of music. In music we learn how to listen and comprehend not words but sounds and rhythm. In all languages, just a change in pitch, can change the meaning and emotion behind a word or phrase as well as the speed or rhythm in which it is spoken.
5. Creative and Abstract Thinking – This is obvious. All the arts use and increase creative and abstract thinking. It is encouraged to break the rules and think outside of the box. All the greatest artists and musicians did it. Bach, Beethoven, John Coltrane, Picasso.
6. Problem Solving – Each song has challenges. Each instrument has challenges. With each difficult passage in a song, the student has to use problem solving techniques to conquer these ares both physically and mentally.
7. Time and Spacial Skills – Again this has a lot to do with rhythm and understanding how to fit notes and rhythms in a set space and tempo.
8. Fine Motor Skills – Most instrument use fine motor skills like typing yet on a much deeper level.
9. Setting and Achieving Goals – A student is constantly moving forward in music. They are setting goals start a new song or lesson. Students learn the pleasures of reaching goals thru hard work; which is much needed lesson in our current fast paced world of instant gratification.
10. Public Speaking – The ability to perform or speak in public is an important skill in or society and in many professions. When a musician performs they are essentially giving a speech or telling a story to a large group of listeners. Music is built on having an audience. Just as in public speaking, the quality of the performance is received depending on how well prepared it is and how confident the performer is with the material.
11. Self Confidence – I have seen many insecure students over my years of teaching become very confident individuals. I believe this to be a result of the fact that they posses a skill that brings joy to people and that it is also a skill that many don’t have yet all are fond of. It is an extremely rewarding task to accomplish a well played song and it always evokes compliments and praise which is great for someone lacking in self confidence.
12. Patience – The only way to learn a song is through slow well thought out methodical practice. In other words very patient practice. If a musician moves forward to early or tries to play fast before they’re ready, they will in turn form bad habits and potentially never be able to play a song well. Patience is key.
I think all this goes double for children. The younger the better. It is extremely beneficial at any age but even more important to instill at a young one; to instill at an age where children are developing all the important skills that will take them through life.
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