Does My Kid Need To Learn a Musical Instrument?

You’re busy right? The five days of the work and school week fly by with their grueling, grinding regime of lunch prep, drop offs, after school activities and less sleep than you’d like. The weekends are meant to be for R & R, but really they just come with their own sets of expectations and plans. It feels tough to justify adding yet another commitment to your modern child’s (and your own) schedule. So what about learning a musical instrument? 

We recently posted a link to this interesting article on the positive influence of music learning on kids. The internet is full of theories on the benefits of music playing and education at an early age.

There seem to be two prevailing schools of thought on the way to do it:

  1. The Laissez-faire approach
    Surround kids with music and instruments. See if they take a particular interest in one or another.
  2. The Interventionist approach
    Sign them up for lessons in an instrument that you are particularly fond of. Heavily influence their instrument choice because if you don’t give them direction no one else will. They’ll thank you later.

The path you might take, or some middle ground between these two poles, is also influenced by cultural factors, social influences, demographics and personal history.

Personally, my childhood experience was closer to the Interventionist approach. I was heavily coerced into learning piano like so many kids of that generation. I begrudgingly went along for the ride but really, my love for music evolved more naturally later in life and I gravitated towards instruments of my own choosing. Perhaps my parents’ push in the first place, laid the foundations for that later love?

Whichever your approach, it does feel justified to invest in at least some form of musical education for young children. We’re living in a time of quick fix and increasingly short form entertainment. Screen numbers are multiplying in our homes. We are seeing growing rates of anxiety and decreasing attention spans. The patience learned via toiling through a musical instrument education seems an appropriate salve.

There is also a 3rd approach. We’ll call it The Mozart Effect. I admit to having played classical music for our imminent child in utero, playing Classic FM in the car, and plonking her in front of Baby Einstein when she was nagging to watch The Wiggles. That immersion technique in the “right” sort of music just felt…well…right. However studies have shown that The Mozart Effect is a bit of a myth and what children need is to actively engage with music via play in order to reap the necessary neural processing (brain re-wiring) benefits .

toddlerandsounds2_custom-1d14414f0b9adc20828710affdc417072cf17800-s800-c85A fascinating study from Northwestern University sampled children aged 6-9 who took music lessons for 2 years (rather than just 1 year). The difference showed an improved ability for these developing brains to process language.  This excellent NPR podcast explains further.

The last word should go to Alexandra Parbery-Clark, an author of a paper on auditory working memory and music:

“We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life, not necessarily, ‘Oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music…Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social — let them enjoy it for what it really is.”

Let your kids enjoy music for what it is. We like that idea.


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