If she is feeling stressed, anxious, or even excited, you can find my daughter at the piano, drumming her fingers fluidly across the keys, lost in the notes. For her playing music is a therapy, an outlet, and an extension of herself. For all of these reasons and more, I just told her I don’t think I want her to take piano lessons at college in the fall – I am afraid she will lose her passion and her escape in the trenches of formal and rigorous music lessons.
Research shows clear connections between learning to play music and positive brain development in children. Study after study comes to the same conclusion: children who learn to play musical instruments are more likely to have larger vocabularies, higher reading skills, and even increased abilities to convey emotions verbally. When it comes to children with learning disabilities, learning to play musical instruments also enhances their cognitive functions.
There seems to be endless lists of the benefits of music training for children, including increased memory skills and attention spans. So why don’t I want my daughter to have formal piano lessons while at college? Perhaps it is my rebellious education side, the home school mom in me that says that her piano playing abilities are where they are now because she wanted them to improve, not because she was receiving a grade for her efforts. Or it could be that while the studies show that learning to play music is beneficial, I have not found one study to say that kids need rigorous lessons in order to see the benefits.
My daughter learned to enjoy playing the piano without all of the hype of Suzuki style lessons or formal recitals at age seven. All of my children learned to play the piano from my mother, with back-up from me, in a comfortable and relaxed manner. One son has moved on to focus on the guitar, another plays the harmonica, while the youngest is still most interested in the piano.
I don’t have any doubts about the far-reaching benefits of music lessons for kids. I do have doubts about whether or not the formal lessons will encourage passion or take away personal pursuits.
The drawbacks of lessons:
Cost – The costs can be as much as a vehicle payment each month. Check to see if your school provides lessons or if another friend or family member can help get your children off to a good start with lessons. It takes the “homework feel” out of the lessons when they are with someone your children already know, and it can save your pocketbook.
Time – Driving to lessons, waiting through lessons, and reminding your child to practice repeatedly all add up to hours each week. Make sure your child wants to take on the challenges before your wheels start spinning and your time starts wasting.
Loss of Passion – This is my biggest fear. For more than 8 years my daughter has enjoyed playing the piano, has been an accompanist for her best friend, performed at various public events, and still loves to play. I don’t have to remind her to practice or suggest she give it one more try.
The benefits of lessons and how to apply them:
Children respond positively to music, of that I have no doubt. Just this last year I found a piano teacher who could support and supplement my daughter’s goals. My daughter gets to pick which music she pursues, how many times per month they meet, and learn from an accomplished musician (for an amazingly low financial cost).
Flexibility – Find someone who works with your family’s needs. So many times X amount of lessons are required each week or month, but that can put a strain on your schedule and your budget. Move away from big franchise type music teachers and find an independent teacher. Often these are the people who are willing to tailor the lessons to your child.
Goal Setting – Take some time to set some goals with your child. Learning a new skill is a valuable practice for kids and it can teach them to set goals. It might just be that you want him to have lessons for all of those wonderful benefits, but he doesn’t really want to be there. Make small goals and keep his personal needs in check with your personal goals.
Experts – It is valuable for our children to be exposed to experts in certain fields. When our children take lessons from accomplished musicians they can not only learn valuable music skills, but experience the world through the eyes of the musician. Music lessons taught by experts are also valuable when you don’t have a personal background. My son had a craving to learn the guitar, but I was a piano and percussion woman myself who could offer little to him. He could read music, but still struggled to translate that to the guitar. Our daughter’s piano teacher also teaches my son the guitar, and he has made great strides in one year.
Learning to play music can translate to cognitive, social, and emotional benefits for our children’s brains. However, in order to turn those beneficial music lessons into a lifelong passion, the music lessons need to be appropriate for your child. The decision is up to my daughter, but I hope that on whatever path she chooses she will still find joy in playing the piano.