Why choose piano lessons for your child(ren)?

By Christina Puhacz

A decision to invest in piano lessons for your child(ren) is a good one.  A while ago,I had a friend tell me that her daughter was having trouble multiplying and she was considering having her tutored in Math.  I did not dissuade her from this but since I am a piano teacher, I felt that I needed to share with her that learning piano (and to a certain extent studying music in general) is widely known to have a positive effect on learning.  There have been numerous studies that show this.  In fact, I had trouble narrowing it down to a just a few to include here!

Some years ago, a Swiss study divided 1200 primary school children into two groups. For two years, one group was given more music classes and fewer math classes. At the end of the study, the kids who received the extra music classes were better at math than the kids who received more math classes.

In a study conducted by psychologist Dr. Frances Rauscher and physicist Dr. Gordon Shaw, a group of preschoolers received private piano keyboard lessons and singing lessons. A second group received private computer lessons. Those children who received piano/keyboard training performed 34 percent higher on tests measuring spatial-temporal ability than the others, even those who received computer training.   Spatial temporal reasoning is the brain function used to understand math, science and engineering.    (Source: Neurological Research February 28, 1997)

High school music students score higher on SATs in both verbal and math than their peers. In 2001, SAT takers with who studied music scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 41 points higher on the math portion than students with no such experience.  (Source: Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by Music Educators National Conference, 2001.)

Music majors are the most likely group of college grads to be admitted to medical school. Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. He found that 66 percent of music majors who applied to med school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. For comparison, (44 percent) of biochemistry majors were admitted. Also, a study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math.  (Sources: “The Comparative Academic Abilities of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University,” Peter H. Wood, ERIC Document No. ED327480)

In conclusion, your children may not turn out to be concert pianists, but they may become doctors, lawyers, scientists,  engineers, accountants, writers, teachers... because they have been provided significant opportunities through music study to develop skills that are compatible with these types of careers. 

Why not Music Lessons for Yourself?

Many adults have expressed to me that music lessons are something that they wish they had as children.  If this is you, I am here to tell you that it is not too late and that there are many compelling reasons for you to consider music lessons for yourself.

Music has positive health effects on people of all ages.  It has long been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, depression, blood pressure, feelings of pain, and loneliness.  Some recent studies have also provided evidence that engaging in brain “workouts” such as music lessons can keep your mind sharp into old age.

I will share only one study with you.  In the Music Making and Wellness project, a group of 61 retirees took group keyboard lessons for two 10-week semesters and another group, which included 69 retirees, did not receive the lessons. Anxiety, depression and loneliness were reduced in the keyboard group (as measured through self-assessment tools) while the group that did not take keyboard lessons reported no change in these feelings.

If playing an instrument is something you really want to do, my advice is to go for it!  With benefits like these, you will get far more than you bargained for.

How can I support my child(ren) as they learn music?

If you have already decided to sign your child up for music lessons, you may be wondering how you can support him/her on his/her musical journey.  

Encourage your child to practise.  Ask them to play for you.  Invite them to play for others that visit your home.  Tell them how excited you are that they are learning to play.  Expose them to music of all kinds.  

Try to set the same time every day for your child to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit.   Generally, the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding you will need to do to get your child to practice.

Learning to work independently can be difficult. For especially young students, and those with attention issues, it may be a good idea for a parent to sit in the room while she/he is practicing. Praise and gentle guidance from the parent will be very helpful here.  For other students, this may not work at all.  Some may prefer to practise more privately.  Each child is unique and I will work with you to determine what works best for your child.

Parental involvement in ensuring that the student does the assigned written work each week will help the student improve his/her music reading and music theory skills.

Always praise and encourage your children.  This is especially true if they have just had a poor performance at a recital, salon, exam, etc.    Remind them of all of their past musical successes.  You need to be your child’s biggest cheerleader.