by Beth Bruno
Time for Music Lessons
“Music lessons appear to strengthen the links between brain neurons
and build new neural bridges needed for spatial reasoning. A study compared
19 preschoolers who took music lessons and 14 classmates enrolled in no
special music programs. After eight months, the study found: A 46% boost
in spatial IQs for the young musicians, and a 6% improvement for children
not taught music. Our studies also show that making music appears to be
much more beneficial to cognitive development than passive listening.”
--- Frances Rauscher, Psychologist, University of California
Parents appreciate the importance of music and the arts, as shown by
their interest in augmenting school programs with private lessons for their
children. But how early should a child begin music lessons? What instrument
is best for beginners? How do parents know if their children have talent?
Jeff McGill, Director of The Music Learning Center (MLC) in Danbury, CT,
answers these and other common parent questions in the following interview.
Bruno: At what age should a child begin taking music lessons?
How do you help a student select a first instrument?
McGill: Students may begin studying piano or violin as early
as age four. Each of these instruments offers particular strengths as a
student’s first instrument. The piano offers an excellent introduction
to many musical concepts that could later be applied to other instruments.
The piano may also offer a young student a somewhat easier experience than
other instruments in that the tone can be produced more readily than is
the case with woodwinds, brass or strings.
Violin study offers some of the challenges in producing a tone properly
through fingering position and bowing techniques, but is generally regarded
as an instrument that can more readily develop the students’ ear, precisely
because of those challenges. Between the two I would allow a younger student
to choose with his or her parent, basing the decision on which instrument
appeals to the student more.
Bruno: Is it best to begin with group or individual lessons?
McGill: The choice of group versus private lessons has a lot
to do with the individual child. Group classes offer a dynamic learning
environment where students are not only playing on their own instrument
but are also participating in musical games, ensemble playing, and a variety
of other activities that cannot be duplicated within a private lesson.
In particular, there is a clear advantage in the development of rhythmic
skills for students who study in group lessons. There is the added benefit
of learning about teamwork and other social skills in this format. For
students who do better on a one-to-one basis, private lessons may be the
best choice. After providing information about the benefits of each approach,
we recommend that parents base their decision on what they have seen work
best for their child in other learning environments.
Bruno: Does your school teach music theory, improvisation or
other skills needed for a student to learn to play by ear?
McGill: Music theory instruction is a component in each student’s
lesson curriculum. Most teaching methods and lesson books cover relevant
theory topics with each piece. Ear training is another topic that is included,
whether through simple “singing along” with lesson pieces, or in a more
detailed program for students studying jazz or voice. Many teachers include
improvisation instruction, and a program of jazz study may be pursued for
most instruments as well.
Bruno: How do you evaluate a child’s potential to benefit
from music lessons?
McGill: Our philosophy is that every child, or adult, may benefit
from studying music, regardless of the degree of natural ability that exists.
Realistic goals need to be set for each individual, but most of all, we
try to encourage students to enjoy and become a part of the process of
“Recently released 1995 SAT results indicate that students who take
music courses average more than 20 points higher than the mean in both
verbal and math, and more than 50 points higher than students who don’t
take any arts courses.
The American Medical Association also gives us a rather remarkable
statistic: Of all students applying for medical school, on average do you
know which student major was accepted more often than all others – including
math, science and biochemistry? Music.”
--- Michael Greene, President of the National Academy of Recording
Arts and Sciences
Beth Bruno firstname.lastname@example.org
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