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6 Benefits of Music Lessons
Learning to play an instrument can help your child fine-tune her ear and
enhance skills needed for education and social interaction.
By Angela Kwan

Between soccer and scouts, your school-age kid's schedule is loaded with fun
activities. If you're on the fence about adding music classes to the list, take note of
the benefits that come with signing your little one up for violin or piano lessons.
Maybe she won't be the next Beethoven, but she may have an easier time learning
math, practicing good manners (including patience!), and becoming a team player.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of music education.

It improves academic skills.

Music and math are highly intertwined. By understanding beat, rhythm, and scales,
children are learning how to divide, create fractions, and recognize patterns. It
seems that music wires a child's brain to help him better understand other areas of
math, says Lynn Kleiner, founder of Music Rhapsody in Redondo Beach, CA. As kids
get older, they'll start reciting songs, calling on their short-term memory and
eventually their long-term memory. Using a mnemonic device to do this is a method
that can later be applied to other memory skills, says Mary Larew, Suzuki violin
teacher at the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, Connecticut. Musical
instrument classes also introduce young children to basic physics. For instance,
plucking the strings on a guitar or violin teaches children about harmonic and
sympathetic vibrations. Even non-string instruments, such as drums and the
vibraphone, give big kids the opportunity to explore these scientific principles.

It develops physical skills.

Certain instruments, such as percussion, help children develop coordination and
motor skills; they require movement of the hands, arms, and feet. This type of
instrument is great for high-energy kids, says Kristen Regester, Early Childhood
Program Manager at Sherwood Community Music School at Columbia College
Chicago. String and keyboard instruments, like the violin and piano, demand
different actions from your right and left hands simultaneously. "It's like patting
your head and rubbing your belly at the same time," Regester says. Instruments not
only help develop ambidexterity, but they can also encourage children to become
comfortable in naturally uncomfortable positions. Enhancing coordination and
perfecting timing can prepare children for other hobbies, like dance and sports.

It cultivates social skills.

Group classes require peer interaction and communication, which encourage
teamwork, as children must collaborate to create a crescendo or an accelerando. If a
child is playing his instrument too loudly or speeding up too quickly, he'll need to
adjust. It's important for children to know and understand their individual part in a
larger ensemble, Regester says. Music Rhapsody offers general music education
classes, in which teachers split students into groups and assign each child a task.
Whether a team is responsible for choosing instruments or creating a melody,
students work toward a common goal. "These are the kinds of experiences we have
in society," Kleiner says. "We need more group interaction and problem solving."

It refines discipline and patience.

Learning an instrument teaches children about delayed gratification. The violin, for
example, has a steep learning curve. Before you can make a single sound, you must
first learn how to hold the violin, how to hold the bow, and where to place your
feet, Larew says. Playing an instrument teaches kids to persevere through hours,
months, and sometimes years of practice before they reach specific goals, such as
performing with a band or memorizing a solo piece. "Private lessons and practicing
at home require a very focused kind of attention for even 10 minutes at a time,"
Larew says. Group lessons, in which students learn to play the same instruments in
an ensemble, also improve patience, as children must wait their turn to play
individually. And in waiting for their turns and listening to their classmates play, kids
learn to show their peers respect, to sit still and be quiet for designated periods of
time, and to be attentive.

It boosts self-esteem.

Lessons offer a forum where children can learn to accept and give constructive
criticism. Turning negative feedback into positive change helps build self-confidence,
Regester says. Group lessons, in particular, may help children understand that
nobody, including themselves or their peers, is perfect, and that everyone has room
for improvement. "Presenting yourself in public is an important skill whether you
become a professional musician or not," Larew says. This skill is easily transferrable
to public speaking, she adds. And, of course, once a child is advanced enough, she'll
possess musical skills that will help her stand out.

It introduces children to other cultures.

By learning about and playing a variety of instruments, kids can discover how music
plays a critical role in other cultures. For instance, bongos and timbales may
introduce children to African and Cuban styles of music. Although the modern-day
violin has roots in Italy, learning to play it exposes children to classical music
popularized by German and Austrian musicians. Versatile instruments, such as the
violin and piano, can accompany a wide repertoire of styles, including classical and
jazz (which originated in the American South). It's important to familiarize children
with other cultures at a young age because this fosters open-mindedness about
worlds and traditions beyond the ones they know.

What to Consider When Selecting an Instrument

Ultimately, the instrument you and your child choose should depend on a number of
factors. Here's a list of questions to consider before bringing home a new music
maker:

Is your child excited about the instrument? Does she like the way it sounds and
feels? Some music schools offer a "petting zoo" that introduces kids to multiple
instruments.
Is the instrument too challenging or is it not challenging enough (for both you and
your child)?
Does your child's temperament match the instrument?
Can you afford the instrument and the maintenance that comes with it?
As a parent, do you like the sound enough to listen to your child practice it for hours
at home?
Is your child specifically interested in a particular music style? If so, factor that into
your instrument choice, as some specifically cater to certain styles. For instance, a
violin player will have a hard time fitting in a jazz ensemble.

Experts don't always agree on which instruments are best for big kids to learn, but
many music teachers do agree that it's hard to go wrong with the piano, percussion
(like the drum or xylophone), recorder, guitar, or violin.

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