How Music Improves a Child's Life by Lauren Conklin

Why do we pour so much time, money, stress, and effort into educating our children? Why do we sacrifice so much of our lives to give them the best possible schooling? Many people would answer, “so they'll make good grades,” or “so they can get into a good college and have a good career,” which is certainly true. But why is it so important for them to make good grades and go to a good school? These things are not an end unto themselves, but rather a means for our children to become what we really want them to be: well-rounded, self-confident, intelligent, curious, driven, creative, successful, and, ultimately, happy.

Unfortunately, there is no curriculum entitled Workbook to Create Confident, Intelligent, Self-Motivated and Successful Children. Instead, we have to decide as parents what steps to take to give our children the best chance at success. One often overlooked area of education that is unexpectedly important is music education. Last year, I wrote an article called Why Music Matters that is full of facts and statistics on how music education positively affects academics and learning ability. Today, I'd like to discuss how music can build children not only into better learners but better people.

Social and Emotional Intelligence
Research shows that students who participate in an orchestra during school score significantly higher on the ACT/SAT than their non-musical peers. But for me, the biggest impact of time spent in orchestra was the social and emotional development it forced me to make. To play in orchestra, you must work as a team—you must communicate with your section to ensure that you play as a cohesive unit at all times. All the violins must ensure that their bows are moving in the same direction; all the flautists must be sure
that they match their articulation and dynamics. Not only does playing as a group require teamwork, it also requires children to use empathy and understanding in their communication with each other. When I played in orchestra in middle and high-school, I had to step outside my comfort zone and talk to many people I didn't know. I had to work up the confidence to input my opinions into conversations, and occasionally when a decision was made that I didn't agree with, I had to let go of my pride and ego and put the good of the orchestra above my own desires for a piece.

Music is also proven to instill confidence and self-assurance in children as they learn to perform. Performing a piece of music requires you to be vulnerable. You are standing in front of your peers, your family, and even strangers, and they are listening to you, focused on you. You must have the confidence to not be shaken, the courage to share something personal and emotional, the self-assurance to recover if you make a mistake. Performing for an audience instills in children social skills and confidence that will transfer over into things like public speaking, leadership roles, and interview skills. I remember vividly my first year of college when I took a speech class—during the first speech, everyone was so nervous. One girl even passed out! I remember thinking, “it's just a 5 minute speech, what's the big deal?” I realized later that I felt no fear because it was just another performance to me, but my peers had not had that training. I am so thankful now that my years of training as a violinist have more than equipped me for any public speaking experience!

Critical Thinking and Creative Problem Solving
Why do music students score so much higher on the ACT than their peers? It's probably because studying music forces students to develop their real time problem solving abilities and quick, creative thinking. For example, when I teach my students a new piece, I always ask them to listen to it first. I ask them to think about what the violinist in the recording is doing with their bow, how their vibrato sounds, how they phrase things. This process requires students to quickly analyze the technique of the performer in real time and connect it back to their own playing. Then when they are playing, they have to recall that information, analyze the notes on the page, think about their own movements, and piece all of those things together. Another example is when students sightread a piece of music. They have to take in the notes, translate those onto their instrument, watch for bowing and articulation cues, think about their tone, think about what's coming next, and decipher the cadence and phrasing of the piece as they go, all without pausing or falling behind the beat.

Improvisation is another staple of music that forces children to use problem solving skills. Improv is more than just “feeling the music”--it requires knowledge of music theory, the ability to follow along with chord changes in time and to understand what notes go with each chord. It requires students to plan far in advance so that their melodies go with the chords and end in the right places. It requires a combination of emotion, artistry, mathematical calculation, planning and execution that is found in very few other places.

Work Ethic, Patience, and Persistence
Finally, music education builds students into self-motivated, patient, and dedicated workers. Mastering an instrument takes many hours of practice, and teaches students to plan out their practice time and create good practice habits. Learning an instrument gives students an enormous sense of accomplishment and self-worth as they grow their ability to play well and to play more difficult pieces. Learning an instrument takes patience—you can't rush through a piece and play it well. It takes optimism and dedication to look at a piece that seems to be an insurmountable challenge and then decide to begin. It takes intelligence and awareness to know your limits and abilities and then to stretch them. It takes a hard-working, successful and well-rounded person to become a musician, which is why I believe that all children should have the opportunity to learn an instrument. We want our children to be happy, and we do all we can to put them on that path. Giving them the opportunity and challenge of music education will endow them with the characteristics and habits needed to achieve great things in all areas of their lives.

Here are some resources to begin your child's education in music today:
1. Attend live concerts
Nashville is full of wonderful, free music experiences. Check these out:
The Nashville Symphony's Free Onstage Events 

Musician's Corner Concert Series 
Jazz on the Cumberland 
Nashville Public Library Courtyard Concert Series 2. Listen to a wide variety of music in your home
Start with these free playlists to get an introduction to music you may not normally listen to at home. While most of this music is purely instrumental, and therefore free of any lyrical content, always be sure to screen any music you play for your children before they listen to it.
Pandora's guide to Classical Music stations
Top 100 Jazz Classics Playlist on YouTube

The year's best World Music from NPR

3. Join a music ensemble or group
Check out these Nashville youth music groups. Some are specifically for homeschoolers, and others are open to all.

Nashville Notes Homeschool Music Association
Music City Youth Orchestra
Curb Youth Symphony
Nashville Children's Choir

4. Enroll your child in private lessons
I teach violin, viola, and beginning cello! Please contact me at laurenconklinmusic at gmail dot com or 615-517-5399 for more information about enrolling your child in lessons!

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