Monday, March 10, 2014

Should Children Take Music Lessons?

The Old Upright
1892 Imperial Upright Grand

I'm not sure that I remember being given a choice as to whether or not I would take piano lessons when I was 8. My first piano teacher was a woman from our church who spent more time teaching me the pronunciation of the letter 's' than music theory or sight reading. I don't know how many times she had me repeat 'A snake hisses. Hiss. Hiss. Hiss.' I must have improved, because at least today no one laughs and points, but what I remember most about her was her front teeth as she pronounced the word 'Hiss.' Nevertheless, she did give me at least an introduction to the piano.

When I got a bit older, my parents hired a nice piano teacher in town to give me weekly lessons. Mrs. Folstad was a very kind, very accomplished, and a very terrifying woman which should have been incentive enough for me to practice my lesson daily. But somehow, the dreaded look of annoyed disappointment when I would stumble through a piece that I should have had perfected, wasn't always enough to override the distraction of the moment. I had a horse. I had a football. I had a life. I was a pill.

Mrs. Folstad was a great teacher, weaving music theory into my lessons. I remember note spellers and chord sequences, tonic, dominant, sub dominant, etc. all things that I had to fill out in my piano notebook. Actually, I loved that part of it. Even today I quickly jot down intervals on the back of a church bulletin when there's a new chorus, just so I can review it when I get home. My teacher was firm but forgiving. Even after my less-than-stellar performance, she would give me milk and cookies and let me watch the birds at her feeder while waiting for my parents to pick me up. She was an amazing woman. And I did actually learn to read music. Now I wonder, 'how did she tolerate listening to so many kids playing 'The Spinning Song' or 'The Wigwam Song' over and over!

Still, I did love to play the piano, the faster the better, and once put thumbtacks on all the hammers to make it sound like a player piano - sort of. It worked great for ragtime music! Don't worry, it wasn't a Steinway. In fact, it was some old piano that my mother and her best friend painted with speckles, putting the hose on the wrong end of the vacuum cleaner. It was a fad, and they created a hideous, beloved monster.

Still just pretending. But maybe some day!
Although more likely to learn violin from his mama.

Anyway, the other night on PBS (maybe the Newshour), there was a segment about music and whether or not it helps children learn. A woman had begun a program in several large cities whereby privately funded music programs were put into the schools to help the underprivileged enjoy the gift of music. What they noticed was that the grades of the students improved as they were learning to play an instrument. Not only were they learning to focus, but were also training their brains to learn better and more. A neurologist was brought in to actually test the instrument-learning students against a control group. Their ability to learn other things, such as science and math, improved with the musical skills they were developing.  They also found that the music students were much more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college.  
The interviewer challenged the head of the program, 'But kids are listening to music all the time!'  he said. She responded with, 'Yes, but you don't get fit by watching someone exercise. It's not a spectator sport.' (a loose paraphrase). But the point was, it's the learning of the instrument that causes all sorts of pathways in the brain to form, thereby enabling children to learn other things as well.  It was fascinating. 

I bought two new piano books. Now I just need to set aside time each day to work through them.Watching that program was motivation, that's for sure.

How about you? Did you study a musical instrument when you were child? Did you like it? Did you hate it? Do you think that learning music helped you? How? Do you still play? What are your thoughts on this? And how do music lessons stack up against sports?


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Denise said...

Wonderful post my friend. I love music. Never played any instrument, except my voice. Always loved singing. Sang in the choir at school, and sang in the church choir.

podso said...

I'm sort of the opinion that every child should at least try to learn an instrument. As an aside, I also think they should listen to classical music at least a little even each day. It does a lot for their brains! I took piano lessons for years and still play but not as well as I wish I did. I also play by ear so it was always hard for me to read sheet music. But I do love being able to sit down and play something I hear. I also think (wow I do have opinions don't I?) that you can start a child too early with music lessons …) I enjoyed this post! And a great photo to go with it.

Sandra said...

I wanted to play piano and we had no piano or money for lessons.. i wanted to be in the band and play a drum, i love drums still to this day. we had no money for drums... back then they had no programs for the poor. my cousin lived next door, they had a piano and money. they forced her to take piano lessons, she would sit and cry and cry because she hated it.
and i cried because i wanted to learn it.
i don't think children should be made to do anything that makes them cry because they hate it.
there is much to learn without forcing them to do it. I cried all the way through PE in school because i am a klutz with no balance at all.... the class just made me more insecure...

Terri D said...

My folks let me take lessons for anything that interested me. God bless them! I took ballet, tap, modern jazz dancing, baton, played trumpet from age 10 through my senior year of high school, and took both piano and organ lessons. I sure wish I had kept taking piano lessons, but Old Mrs. Weldon was the only piano teacher in town. I started too late (age 13) and hated playing 'Snug as a Bug in a Rug', over and over. She always clicked her dentures and always had baby powder stuck in the wrinkles of her arms and hands. Now, I can read treble clef, but can't read bass clef fast enough to keep up with my right hand. I have to memorize the bass clef so I can play a song on the piano. It's been years.

I totally agree that music (the arts in general) help kids learn. It has been proven over and over again. Not and art!! So stop cutting the arts!

Diane said...

Very interesting. I took piano and violin for a short time in grade school, but learned the songs so quickly I got bored and also never learned to read music because I was playing by ear. So, naturally, I quit. And, naturally, now I regret it.

TexWisGirl said...

no, no music lessons for me. no instrument playing.

Yvonne @ StoneGable said...

All children should at least try to play an instrument or sing or learn to appreciate music. Great post!

Susie said...

I always wanted to learn the piano. I could not afford it, not for my children either. I have one grandchild, Emma , who takes piano lessons. I love it. I think if someone wants to learn, or someone offers to teach...let's find a way. Emma music teacher did say, kids who take lessons do better in their school works also. Blessings, xoxo,Susie

Pamela Gordon said...

I took piano lessons from grade 2 to the end of grade 8. My teacher for grades 2 - 6 was an elementary school teacher, Miss McNairn. In grades 7 and 8 I took lessons from a neighbour lady on the next block. We had an old upright in our dining room and I'd practice every day at lunch time. I appreciated learning piano and learning to read music as it helped when singing in choirs all my life. It's good to know how to read music although we don't use music notes in our church choir, just the words and listening, which is also challenging. I can't say I agree with the 'experts' saying that it helped me to learn math and science better. I have always had a struggle with math skills and it drug me down in high school to the point of failure. In those days you weren't 'moved on' to the next grade either. Any way, only my older sister and I took piano lessons but my brother and younger sister did not. Lack of money? Not sure. Our daughter took piano but our son did not. My husband took piano for a couple of years but in 1979 he started playing again on his own and is very good at it. ;) Our grandsons love music, singing and drums. They are only 3 and 18 months but their musical parents are encouraging them along and have bought them a snare drum, a high hat cymbal and a pint size drum kit. Good post Judy! Thanks for sharing your experience. P.S. I haven't played the piano in years and there are 4 keyboards in this house!! LOL

Vee said...

Yes, I did take lessons, all six months of them because I hated it so. When I quit lessons, I started playing the piano and have not quit since. I wish that I had not quit the lessons. My children took lessons for three years each. Neither of them plays today. My mother spray painted our old upright gold. I think our mothers would have had a fine time decorating pianos!

Deanna said...

I took lessons for a couple of short stints as a child but I was very shy and my teachers terrified me. However, I started taking lessons this past September from a lovely teacher who also happens to be a good friend. I'm loving it! I think music education is very important. Sadly, when there are school budget cuts art and music are usually the first things to go.

Lin from A {tiny} Cottage In The Woods said...

Good morning, Judy,

I'm new here, and this is such a great topic that I'm inspired to leave a comment.

I studied the clarinet, because my mother expected each and every one of us to play a musical instrument, and that is the instrument that the band director chose for me when I was 9. I didn't especially like it, but I became more & more accomplished with time. In high school, I went to all state orchestra & band, and received a audition notice from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia for a full scholarship. I didn't audition. I wanted to study art, and over the years, I eventually stopped playing altogether.

But I learned so much more. Attention to detail. Self discipline. To set a goal, push myself, and reach that goal. To work with others. Learning how to do one thing well teaches us the steps to become accomplished at others.

I also was on a swim team, and some may argue that it taught the same kinds of things. But I disagree. Funny thing. I ended up in a career in software, and many of the engineers that I knew also studied music. I just think music opens the mind and teaches invaluable lessons.

Nice to meet you. Loved your post.
~ Lin

Life Happens said...

I JUST read an article that said kids who learn to play a musical instrument learn better and are smarter! I can't wait until Matthew gets older so I can sign him up for piano lessons. He's only 3 now, but we have him enrolled in a toddler music class where they sing and play some instruments. And he has a trumpet, recorder, drums, moracca's and some other kiddie instruments that he loves! It's never too early to expose them!

Ruth Kelly said...

I took violin lessons 1 year, piano 1 year but I really needed to more.

Butterfly 8)(8 Bungalow said...

I come from a very large family and we were given an organ. I learned to play church hymns by ear. I sang in the school choir too. As an adult I took piano lessons. I can play, not well, but I have to practice the piece I want to play.

In contrast, my daughter is a promising pianist. Her ability was present very young. She was only two when she repeatedly asked for a violin. So, I started taking her with me to my piano lessons and she would sit on the floor and listen. When she started piano lessons a few years later, it was obvious that she was talented.

She also has a "sport": ballet. It's not a typical one, because they get classical music with exercise. She says dancing is easier than playing a piano. Someone is coaching four days a week. In contrast, when you learn an instrument there is only one lesson a week. It's up to the student to practice and figure out the new music and fix the mistakes from the week before. It's up to the student to make sure she is making a musical line. She says it takes more self-directed discipline and focus.

Classical music is the greatest music ever produced, but today's popular music often has no order, no poetry, and even no instruments. My opinion is strong, but I think all children should learn to listen to classical music, learn the simplest of instruments,learn to sing hymns, and folk music.

Heide at ApronHistory said...

My parents are musical. They don't even really like listening to music much. So no music on the program for us. Though Mom did decide we needed a bit of classical music appreciation. She got us cassette tapes of the famous composers life stories. We loved them!
I think playing the piano is a skill and when you teach children a skill they develop concentration, patience and determination. So I don't know if it is music in general or just the fact that it is a hands on skill they are learning. Or maybe it is a bit of both?
Sports was even lower on the list then music. Lol! We preferred to get our exercise in by riding bikes, gardening and running around like hooligans!

The Quintessential Magpie said...

I studied the flute, and I loved it. Then we moved, and I quit taking lessons. I took piano and adored my first teacher, but my second teacher bored me to distraction. I finally quit. I can play a little of both. And if the voice is an instrument, I was in the school choir for two years when I was older and went to district choral festival. I play best by ear. But I have a lot of rhythm because I took years of dance. Loved it, too.



The Quintessential Magpie said...

Oh, and Judy... I tried to take up flute again, and the instructor I had was a former junior high band teacher and a veritable nazi drill sergeant. I quit despite the fact that he felt I was good enough to play in the community orchestra... Not the big orchestra, but some group who liked to play together. It might have been fun, but he was not! At this age, if it's not fun or pleasant, I don't have time for it. But I keep looking longingly at that flute. Think of all the great classical and folk music I could play! I saw James Galway on e, and I was in awe!



Suzan said...

The Spinning Song!!!
I loved that piece!! I'd play it and play it and play till Mom would tell me my time was up :-}}
Wish I had continued playing piano several more years.
I also played the clarinet in middle school.
It's important for students to know how to play an instrument.
I do also believe that it helps young developmental brains as does a 2nd language!!

Judy S. said...

Great post, Judy! I played piano and violin and should do more of that now. I am grateful to have learned how to read music every week at choir practice! Our choir director says that music speaks when word can't. How true!

Susan said...

Hello Judy...

I'm all for kids taking music lessons, providing they show an interest.

My mom made me take piano lessons and I'm glad. I also took clarinet and guitar.

In my later years (like now), I still play the guitar and a few years ago took banjo lessons.

Music is wonderful. Susan

Carla from The River said...

Hi Judy,
I studied to play the flute. I enjoyed it.
Atticus plays piano. Both of my boys love classical music.
And I love music.
So blessed by music everyday.

Dar said...

I never took any lessons except the ones taught by my Dad. A few of my sisters and I played the acoustic guitar, the dulcimer, the accordion and harmonica, one plays the banjo, another the piano. We all love to sing and still do once in awhile. I think it's a wonderful way to teach discipline and patience. I still want to learn all the above, but well. I still regret letting the piano that was in our home when we moved here, I let it go when I could have had it...if only space would have allowed with a houseful of my own kids that could have learned it.
I loved your photo. Genius!

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

HI Judy What a wonderful post. My Mum was a music teacher and she taught me util I was 6 when I went in for an exam and had the flu. I would not let her teach me again. She should have sent me to another teacher and she always regretted it but later in life, so I thine taught myself. I did take it up again in later life just for my own enjoyment and eventually my Mum gave me her wonderful German piano. after a fire in my home a few years ago I sold her piano and stopped playing. I have been a singer (alto) all my life. Have a great day.

Donna said...

Thanks to a kind aunt who took a shine to me, I learned how to play a piano. She bought a used upright for me and paid for me lessons until there was a falling out with my cantankerous dad. By then I was good enough that the nun who taught me let me continue if I dusted and cleaned the music room now and then.

I was very good at it, and I can attest that learning music is a wonderful way to teach discipline and patience. I won first place in nearly every contest I entered. Unfortunately, everyone else got it in their brains that I should play piano for the rest of my life and for a career. I turned down, without nary a thought, a 4-year scholarship for music. I wanted to be an engineer, and it was a wise choice for me.

So I think there is a potential for parents and educators to try to push youngsters into certain directions, musical or otherwise. And that should be avoided, IMHO. Children should be allowed to live out their own dreams and interests.

Anita Johnson said...

Oh my, a tough subject for me. my sister and I took piano lessons and she is very, very good at it. I can't play a note. When my parents moved years ago we found in the piano bench, along with the sheet music our lesson books. my sister practiced 30 min a day. And then there were my entries...1 min., 6 min, 7 and a half minutes. I just didn't like it. Do I wish I could play now? Yes, but I don't think they could have made me back then. I also wanted to be a water color artist. And a horse trainer. Hmmm, no one to blame but myself for those. Still, I am blessed by all the things I can do, and there is always time to learn something new!

Tina said...

I think it depends on the child. I was also one of those blessed with parents that would allow me take lessons for whatever I was interested in. I grew up listening to all kinds of music. I would always have music on while doing my homework. To this day I prefer to have music in the background.

Jessica said...

What a great find! We have my husband's Grandmother's chest, although it's in worse condition. My kids saw it on a shelf in the garage on morning a couple of years ago (they had never noticed it before) and said 'Look! Daddy used to be a pirate!"

Jessica said...

Oops! Just realized I commented on the music post. Sorry!

Cathy said...

I pretty much took piano lessons from 2nd grade until I graduated high school. I really had no choice in the matter.

However, I loved playing the piano and played it a lot. Unfortunately, I just didn't practice my lessons. ha

My mom also made me play at church whenever our pianist or organist wasn't there. And now I am the pianist at the church where my husband is pastor. I'm not great, but I do okay on the type of music we sing. :)

I still love to play, but I much prefer to play when I am completely alone and now one is listening. Then I can let go and really enjoy! I don't get that chance very often any more though.

After, saying all that, I do think it is good for children to learn some type of musical instrument.

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Deborah@Green Willow Pond said...

I was made to take piano lessons and I won't say I hated it, but I disliked it very much. I begged my mom to let me quit. After several years she did.

I never made my kids play an instrument, and couldn't afford the lessons, but now they are interested themselves and are picking it up super fast because they want to. My oldest son now plays drums in our church worship and does an awesome job...all self taught. My youngest son has taken up the piano this year. We were given a beautiful old upright piano and he is picking it up rapidly too. I think when someone really wants to do something, they will practice and practice and love it. Forcing them to, just makes them hate it.

J_on_tour said...

I was forced to play the piano between the age of 7 and 11 and hated it. The music teacher talked about politics for the first half of the lesson to my uninterested Mother. I was subscribed for some festival competitions in my age group and amazingly came third once. I watched the winners perform the same song with depth and feeling whereas I was a normal kid that liked pop music or rather playing football (soccer) out in the street with my friends.
High school was an excuse to put it behind me concentrating on other things. However I joined a youth choir aged 15 and got stuck into learning some of the tasty chords from the modern music scores. I self taught guitar at 17 but never really went on to master it past all the standard chords as Piano was my main instrument. A while later I bought a Bass guitar from a work colleague and put that to good use for church worship over many a year. I had a set of drums out in the garden shed for two years but that was an instrument too far and I gave it away when life got difficult and that space was needed to store other things ... Jack of all trades, master of none !!


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