seven reasons to study music

Music Lessons are not a Playdate: Seven Reasons to Study Music

I recently had a very awkward phone call with a parent who had some serious concerns about “paying all this money for my kid to have a playdate”. It was very difficult to suppress the gag reflex and keep things civil, because hearing that she considered my professional services to be a “playdate” was a huge insult. So I gave her seven reasons to study music.

Aside from being put in the same category as a small child, the “playdate” label indicates that she has no understanding of the proven benefits of serious music study, which have measurable effects on everything from IQ and test scores to emotional health, social skills, creativity and intuition. She was somehow convinced that her son wasn’t a good musician despite not being a musician herself, and had no frame of reference for understanding what the real benefits are, or what it even means to be a “good” musician.

Instead of letting her know how belittling and insulting her words were, I tried to share with her, in a calm and reassuring voice, a few reasons for why her investment was more than just a “playdate”. Maybe you can use these seven reasons to study music to calm down a confused parent, because at the end of the day, the parents are often the customer who you have to deal with in the most unexpected and inconvenient ways.

1. Teachers are professionals.

First and foremost, I’m not a child. My parents don’t drop me off at music lessons to teach her son. I’m a professional musician, I studied music in college, and I’ve been teaching for 12 years. Most music teachers have credentials of some kind, whether it’s degrees, certificates, studio experience, records put out, shows played, tours, etc….

2. Teachers are a mentors.

I’ve played lots of gigs, and shared the stage or opened for some great artists, all of whom taught me things in the process. One of my mentors is the great film composer Patrick Doyle. I’ve spent time in the studio with great producers and engineers, people like Matt Rollings, who taught me more in 3 months making a record together than any class I ever took. I’ve played gigs with, been mentored by, and played in the studio with some amazing people. This means that when I am teaching a music lesson, I am passing on a wealth of knowledge that I directly learned from some of the greatest musicians in the world. This is not something you can just read in a book. It’s something that can only be transmitted in person. I have mentors, and I am a lifelong student, and I pass that on to my students in the form of inspiring and interesting lessons, the same way I was taught: through direct transmission. As my martial arts mentor often says, “skill sets dictate leadership”. Studying with someone who has skills you want to learn, who is also a mentor, is a serious undertaking.

3. Music lessons challenge the whole person to improve.

The skill set required to become a proficient musician is challenging on a physical, mental, and emotional level. It requires complex neurological patterns to be mastered that involve the programming of muscle memory, listening skills, analytical skills, visual and spatial awareness, fine motor coordination, controlled relaxation, proper use of muscle tension, posture, focus, and the development of intuition and instinctive decision making. It involves commitment and passion, or it can fall apart. Students who do well are learning all of this, and more.

4. Music lessons teach time management.

How can you learn a difficult piece of music if you have no sense of time management? Music lessons demand this in return for the skill sets learned. It’s not enough to just practice every once in a while. It has to become a part of the student’s daily routine. This has ripple effects in other areas, as the student gets results from daily practice and transfers this process to other goals they have in life. Mastering this at a young age sets a person up to achieve their goals in a steady fashion, with the right combination of hard work, passion, and patience. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

5. Music lessons improve emotional health.

The challenges involved in learning to play music can cause someone to develop patience, self-forgiveness, and confidence. It’s a form of meditation to sit with good posture at an instrument and run scales and arpeggios, or repeat sections of a song in slow motion to erase mistakes and program muscle memory. Learning to read music, working with a metronome, learning to play by ear, interpreting chord charts, composing and improvising, all have measurable effects on a person’s sense of identity and emotional health.

6. Music lessons strengthen short term and long term memory.

Elderly people with dementia or alzheimer’s who hear songs from their youth often perk up and come alive in ways that medicine, therapy, and other forms of healing can’t touch. Musical patterns, melodies, chord progressions, and muscle memory patterns create memories that stay with students for the rest of their lives. These patterns, once learned, also have the ability to structure short term memory and allow for a higher degree of brain function. The act of playing music requires the entire brain to be activated and functioning as a whole, using the ear, the eye, the kinesthetic senses, and planning movements in sequences dictated by a constant awareness of the passing of time.

7. Music lessons teach skills that you can make money with later in life.

Aside from all the benefits listed above, if someone masters music at a basic level they can get paid to play gigs. They can study it formally in college, and they can learn to teach music. Some people are able to make this into a career, others do it on the side for a little extra income, and others just have music as a lifelong hobby that they love, and that always gives back more than they put into it.

I tried to convey the gravity of these seven reasons to study music over the phone, and hopefully I was successful. Of course, at the time I didn’t have a well organized blog post to refer to. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, feel free to forward the link to this post to anyone who thinks that music lessons are a “playdate”, something to be discarded the minute a baseball game appears, or something frivolous. You might just save a student from being pulled from lessons, and 20 years later, when they can’t play baseball anymore, and when they are still playing music, they will have you to thank.