By Laura Yeh
Kids who learn to play a musical instrument gain an outlet for their creativity that can bring them a joy for a lifetime. They also reap tangible benefits that can help them as students and throughout their lives.
Through musical instruction, children learn discipline, patience, problem-solving skills, confidence and responsibility, to name just a few benefits. Let’s take a closer look at some of the advantages your child can gain from learning to play an instrument:
Precision, discipline and focus: In addition to fostering the development of discipline, music enables children to learn precision and accuracy. I know of no other form of education that can help students learn this kind of focused precision at a young age. Students learn to pay close attention to exactly how a particular skill looks, sounds and feels. The brain learns to notice more detail.
Patience: Students gain the valuable quality of patience, especially with a more complex instrument like violin or piano. Each skill requires hundreds of repetitions to become easy. Students must have the confidence that they will get it if they just keep practicing.
Problem-solving and persistence: Practicing is always about problem-solving. Why do I make a mistake here or why does it sound squeaky? What solutions can I come up with to fix the mistake? Good practice techniques require creativity and patience to identify and solve the problem. From this, students learn persistence. No passage is impossible to play correctly. It’s just a matter of finding the right way of practicing.
Fine motor skills: I have seen the development of fine motor skills in my violin students, particularly the ability to isolate certain muscles and joints as well as the independent use of each finger.
Healthy habits: Learning a musical instrument requires good posture and the ability to keep muscles relaxed even while doing something challenging. Students also strengthen muscles and gain flexibility, both of which contribute to overall health.
Memory: As music is memorized, the capabilities of memory are greatly enhanced. Education then becomes a matter of drawing conclusions and making connections between concepts rather than an exertion to merely memorize all the material. The younger a child can begin learning music, the greater the benefit for their short- and long-term memory.
Creativity: The wonderful thing about music is that, although it requires precision and accuracy in terms of rhythms, notes and playing technique, when it comes to interpretation, there is so much room for individuality. The skill of improvisation allows even greater creativity. Students learn to think for themselves and make their own artistic choices rather than being told how to do everything.
Cultural Understanding: Students are introduced to music of different cultures and from different times. This exposure is useful for kids to learn about and appreciate the differences and individuality of all people.
Confidence and work ethic: Students learn that if they apply themselves intelligently, efficiently, and persistently they achieve the desired result.
So what is the best way to introduce children to music? Many children with encouragement can learn challenging instruments such as the violin and piano. But not all families can invest the money and time required for instruments and lessons. A wonderful instrument that I have found to help spur children’s interest in music is the ocarina.
These ancient little wind instruments were played by the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas of South and Central America and in ancient India and China. The ocarina was well known in the United States in the early part of the last century after being issued to troops in the two World Wars.
In 2004, I bought several ocarinas while on a visit to Taiwan. I was impressed by how easy the ocarina was to pick up and play. So we began teaching it at the St. Louis School of Music. It turned out to be a perfect fit.
The ocarina is pocket-sized, fun and intriguing to play. It’s portable, economical and has a pleasant sound even in the hands of a beginner. It offers a great way to teach children the lifelong joys of music and introduce them to skills that will help them excel in everything they do.
About the Author:
Laura Yeh is a performer and music educator trained in the Suzuki methods of instruction who teaches violin and ocarina at the St. Louis School of Music to children as young as 3 and adults. Laura and her husband Dennis have collaborated with ocarina makers around the world to produce new models of the ocarina. They have designed and produced many unique and innovative ocarinas sold by STL Ocarina (http://www.stlocarina.com).
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