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Music lessons provide benefits beyond the piano keys (or instrument strings)

December 02, 2013

Growing up, a requirement in our home was that my brother and I choose one instrument to learn to play, and we were required to take lessons. For us, this happened to be piano lessons, starting at a young age. I began taking lessons when I was six years old, and continued to play for eight years. That was eight years too long, in my childhood mind. I hated piano lessons – the time required to practice, my teacher’s gnarly fingernails, and worst of all – piano recitals and competitions. Talk about having major stage fright! I was so convinced that my parents were being unjust in requiring piano lessons that I proceeded to write them essays on why I should be allowed to quit.  My wish was finally granted when I took up the clarinet in our high school band. It’s a musical instrument too, right? Well, guess what. Fast forward ten-something years later, and I wish I hadn’t quit. And the worst part of it all - my mom “told me so.”

Even though I despised the idea at the time, I’m so glad my parents required us to take music lessons. I love being able to sit down at a piano and still play my favorite songs. And as it turns out, music lessons offer many benefits that reach beyond just simply learning to play an instrument and being good at it.

Researchers have identified several benefits of music lessons that carry over to your child’s early development, the classroom, and even as they approach their senior years.

Some of these well-known benefits of music lessons include:

Language development. As children are learning to communicate, music lessons can help enhance their natural ability to decode sounds and words.

Spatial–temporal skills. Studies have found that there may be a link between music and spatial intelligence, meaning your child’s ability to solve complex problems, such as in a math equation.

Improved test scores and IQ. Children who attend regular music lessons are not only strengthening their auditory skills, but their attention and memory skills, too. Enhancement of both of these skills can extend into the classroom as crucial components of successful academic testing.

But what is probably the most interesting benefit is one that extends into a person’s elderly years. A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that as little as a few years of music lessons at an early age can benefit the brain later on in life. The study specifically focused on the ability to hear, which commonly gets worse with age.

As people get older, they often experience changes in the brain that can compromise their ability to hear well. These changes result in a slower response to fast-changing sounds, which is important for interpreting speech, especially in a setting with a lot of background noise. What researchers found was that those who had participated in music lessons at a young age, even if they hadn’t played an instrument in decades, had a faster response to a speech sound when compared to those who had never picked up an instrument. Fascinating, right? Researchers also found that the longer a person had participated in music lessons, the better their ability was to decipher speech sounds at a later age.

As you can see, there are a lot of benefits that accompany music lessons for children. However, it’s important to remember that if your family does choose to enroll your child in lessons, to first and foremost do it with the intention of allowing your child to experience the beauty of learning a musical instrument. Music lessons alone will not make your child smarter, but only enhance the natural abilities and skills that he/she already has. Learning to appreciate the process of learning a new instrument is valuable in and of itself.