Why Should My Child Learn to Read Music?

Putting your child in piano lessons is a big investment. Parents understandably ask themselves: Is it worth it? Are these skills going to benefit my child in the long run? Sure, human beings have been making music for tens of thousands of years, so...it's probably not a complete waste of time. But is it really worth putting all this time and money into my child's music education?

Before you decide, here's some food for thought:

Music Changes Your Brain

The idea that passively listening to music can make you smarter has been generally debunked by the scientific community. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that actively participating in music has a significant, positive effect on brain development - and the younger you start, the better. 

Scientists can actually see differences between the brains of people who received musical training before the age of 7, and those who haven't. Researchers at Concordia University have observed that people who took music lessons as young children had stronger connections between the parts of their brain related to planning and carrying out movements. [1] Tests proved that these people were able to perform better on tasks that required accurate timing. This makes sense, right? In music lessons, your child learns to listen, and to coordinate what they do with what they hear.

But what do accurate timing and precise hearing have to do with non-musical skills? Is all this really relevant to anything, besides than the ability to play the piano?

In fact, neuroscientists are discovering that it is. Scientists are discovering that the way our brains process music is closely related to the way our brains process language. Reading relies on our ability to understand the structures of spoken language - for example, we need to be able to hear where words begin and end, or how syllables relate to one another. It turns out that learning to hear the nuances of speech is important to learning how to read, and that musical training can improve reading ability. [2]

Even your child's ability to learn in class may benefit from piano lessons, research suggests. Musicians seem to have an edge when it comes to auditory attention and memory - which means that understanding and remembering what the teacher says in class may be a bit easier for a musically-trained child. Researchers have found that musical skills even help us overcome the hearing difficulties we experience as we age. [3]

Nina Krause, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, is convinced that learning music has a lifelong impact on how well we're able to communicate with one another, and therefore on our longterm social and emotional well-being. In fact, she's quite eloquent on the subject:

 

Music Enhances Your Social Life

And no, that's not limited to helping your child get dates during their teenage years (maybe best not to think about that yet...) We're thinking of that complicated but so-important sense of self, which in turn shapes how we interact with others.

Studies have shown the positive impact music learning can have on self-esteem [4], but this just confirms what many parents and educators have already seen for themselves. As an outlet for creative self-expression, music can be a source of pride for a child, as well as an opportunity to reflect, experiment, and win praise from others. Children also learn to accept constructive criticism as something that can co-exist with pride and praise - there's always room for improvement, but that doesn't take away from everything you've achieved.

And of course, piano lessons are just the beginning. As your child grows up, there will likely be many opportunities to become part of a musical community. Whether it's a school band, church choir, or amateur musical theatre production, piano skills are a great foundation to build on. Getting a head start on music means participating with greater confidence in a wide range of rich and fulfilling social activities.

Of course, all this depends on finding the right teacher - while a good piano teacher will carefully, gradually build up both your child's skills and their confidence, a bad piano teacher can have the opposite effect. We recommend watching the first few lessons carefully, and then deciding whether a teacher is setting your child up for social and emotional success.

Music is Fun

Perhaps the most cherished and valuable skill your child will learn in piano lessons is...how to play the piano! Like reading, music is a practical life skill, but also a source of relaxation and enjoyment that we return to again and again throughout our lives. 

Those of us who were lucky enough to take piano lessons as children still enjoy sitting down at the piano with some music we like and...just playing. We can still take delight in impressing our friends and accompanying their songs. We still like to remind ourselves, from time to time, that we can make something sound beautiful.

So when you're thinking about investing in your child's musical development, bear in mind the many complex, interconnected, and far-reaching benefits that come with learning to play an instrument.

Give Your Child The Gift Of Music

Footnotes:

[1] Canadian Association for Neuroscience, "Early Music Lessons Boost Brain Development." 

[2] Adam Tierney and Nina Krause, "Music Training for the Development of Reading Skills."

[3] William R. Klemm, "Music Training Helps Learning & Memory" (Psychology Today)

[4] Nikki R. Rickard et al., "Orchestrating Life Skills: The Effect of Increased School-Based Music Classes on Children's Social Competence and Self-Esteem."

 

 

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