When a child goes to school, they learn to be on time, pay attention to and respect their elders, do homework and study for tests. These very specific skills will help them later on in life in the work force. They will have deadlines to meet, work to bring home, and bosses to answer to. When a child plays a sport, he learns to be part of a team, to push through physical pain and fatigue, to be a good winner and loser, and to be dedicated. Like school and sports, learning to play the piano, or any instrument for that matter, helps children develop important life skills as well.
While learning to become a musician, children develop into skilled young adults who are better ready to transition into college or University and work. Our society today focuses on bringing up kids who are independent, creative, confident and can be flexible in ever-changing environments. I would argue that all of these attributes are at least in part brought forth from learning music and playing an instrument.
When a child decides that he wants to become a musician, he must also decide that he needs to be committed. He can play the piano half heartedly, and practice when it fits into his schedule, but he will not become a musician. This does not mean that he, or you as a parent, expects to be a professional. Or that playing the piano should be priority number one. But it does mean that practice can’t happen only during free time, and lessons can’t be sporadic. He has to be committed to his art and willing to study it just like any other subject, with a regular practice schedule.
Mastering an art takes a great deal of time. Period. Even “gifted” or highly talented children take many years to develop into competent musicians. During this time, musicians are constantly reviewing their pieces and honing in on the many details required to create a musical performance. They increase their attention spans and focus by setting their sights on accomplishing musical goals and working towards them. A great deal of patience is required in memorizing pieces and playing them at a high performance standard. The hours spent practicing and the years spent honing their skills shows them that not only are they able to set a goal and achieve it, but that they have the persistence and patience to see it through. In our crazy world of instant gratification, wouldn’t it be good to know that your child has the patience to wait for the important things?
3. Muscle Coordination and Dexterity
Many instruments such as the piano, flute, clarinet, trumpet, and so on require a great deal of manual dexterity. You need to learn to be extremely precise with the movements of not only your hands and fingers, but also your feet, as is the case with the piano and drums. In order to accomplish manipulating buttons, strings or keys, your muscles also need to be coordinated. Developing the muscle memory to use both hands independently, strike keys in a certain order, or create a different rhythm between your hands and feet is not an easy task. In fact, some would compare this high level of coordination to that of a skilled surgeon.
4. Problem Solving
Over the course of many years, of playing and practicing, a good musician learns how to struggle through and solve problems, often on his own. How many times has your child struggled through a piece of music for a week, to finally achieve perfection and feel ecstatic about it? Often times that accomplishment means more to him because he did it on his own. Of course his teacher will help and guide him during lessons, but what about during his many hours of practice time at home? He then needs to take the tools he learns from his teacher, and apply them himself. Often times those skills need to be adjusted and tweaked, which brings us to the next skill, flexibility.
It is very rare nowadays to live in one place or stay at one job for a long time. We move to different areas or cities, different countries and even different continents. We change jobs to get ahead, get away, and get involved. Companies downsize and we find ourselves without a job at all. In life in general, things change. Our children need to be ready to adapt to and roll with those changes. In music, flexibility is important. Changes in one’s concert environment, learning improvisation pieces and being able to fit in or stand out, are all unavoidable. A good musician is able to work with the conditions in their environment, yet be creative in their work and play well solo or with a group. New experiences working with other musicians increase their ability to collaborate and develop their listening skills. A person’s ability to keep flexible will of course benefit them in all aspects of life, and can be strengthened through learning music.
There are of course many more life skills that are learned while mastering an art like playing the piano, and none of which are necessarily any less valuable than the ones described above. Many self reports from children show that they learn positive character traits like confidence, respect, compassion and responsibility. Studies have shown that students who study the arts are more compassionate towards others. In addition, teachers see an increase and curiosity and the desire to learn in their music students. All in all, learning to play the piano, or another instrument, is beneficial not only in and of itself, but also in life in general.