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Music Education Benefits:
Why Learn an Instrument?
These days though, you hardly ever think of the different steps involved, it all just seems to kind of flow from you, naturally. It’s indicative of the fact that your brain has internalized multiple complex processes and coordinative functions, to the point where they now seem second nature - To put it differently: You’ve grown smarter.
Learning an instrument is kind of the same thing (minus the animals and pregnant individuals). Like driving, it’s a multi-sensory engagement. You use your visual capabilities (Sheet Music, Frets, Keys), your Aural Capabilities (Pitch, Melody, Rhythm) and your Kinetic Capabilities (Strumming, Fretting, Playing). If you really screw up with that fancy new Les Paul guitar, you might even start smelling some of its expensive electric components (though that’s not recommended).
All of this to say, that learning a new instrument really does make you smarter. It accesses many of the same parts of the brain that learning a second language does (I’m tri-lingual and believe that learning an instrument is easier). Numerous scientific studies have shown that people, and especially children, who learn musical instruments, frequently have higher IQ’s (by as much as seven points).
By mastering the guitar, piano or saxophone you are literally forcing your brain to grow, change, adapt and evolve (called Neuroplasticity). I believe this is why many famously smart people throughout history (like Einstein, Neil Armstrong and Thomas Edison) were first-rate musicians. Mastering an instrument also specifically helps with memory (see point 6 below).
Music Education Benefits #2: Musicians have unlimited access to a constant ego-booster
When I was in my early twenties, a guitarist of some skill but fairly worthless on the keyboard, I decided that Richard Clayderman really wasn’t such a bad guy after all, and that maybe a little bit of piano would do me good.
I brought home a piece of sheet music, dusted off the ancient electronic (and slightly off-key) Made-In-China Yamaha, in a forgotten corner of my parents’ home, and started practicing.
A few days later, after dedicating myself to the task with a fair amount of fervor, I managed to play the piano piece, which sounded quite lovely, without too many mistakes. The stunned reaction from those around still floored me though: Words like ‘genius’, ‘amazing’, ‘spectacular’ and ‘unbelievably handsome’ (Ok, maybe my memory’s failing me on that last one) was uttered with reverence. Of course, the accomplishment was anything but amazing (I had prior experience with the piano), but it doesn’t take a Mozart to realize that it was incredibly beneficial to my already inflated ego.
Musicians carry within themselves a skill that will usually amaze those around them, even if they’re still fairly new to their instrument. Compliments and ego-boosters will frequently come from those who always think of music as something you listen to, and not necessarily something you "make". This can be a great self-image builder. And, while no true musician should play only for the cheer, it does help on a psychological level to know that you’re able to make music (and not just listen to it), in a way that many folks around you can’t. It will also means that people will generally praise you for it.
Music Education Benefits #3: Musicians understand the pain of discipline (in a world where many don't)
Most of us today are way too sophisticated for the silliness of rote-learning. No, as 21st century experience-driven and neon (over) stimulated individuals who have finally “arrived”, we chase after the funny, the thrilling, the exciting and the novel, no matter how artificial.
We dislike the idea of the repetitive and demanding, especially if it produces no instantly-visible results. However, should we consider whether this view of life is in line with reality, we’ll quickly discover the following FACT:
There is no successful sport-star, rock-star, shooting-star, millionaire investor and billionaire businessman who will not admit that the path to the top demands a whole lot of work, especially in the form of the repetitive and the uninspiring honing of specific skills and expressions (Think of pro-basketball players throwing hoops for 6 hours a day - How exciting!). In short: Success in any field of life is simply impossible without discipline (winning the lottery does not count as success in my book).
Here’s where the beauty of learning an instrument really starts to shine: Unless you want to sound like a fool, mastering any instrument requires a fair amount of discipline. It does not produce instant results, it usually tests your patience, and it ends up stretching the limits of your frustration boundaries.
That means that by forcing yourself to learn an instrument, no… by forcing yourself to become capable/good with your instrument, you are acquiring the same fundamental character skills necessary for life-success in general. Musicians understand that the process of learning is valuable, sometimes even more so than the product of the performance. Like the old man, lost in the streets of New York, heard when he asked a young busker: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall son?” The Musician replied: “Practice, practice, practice!”
Music Education Benefits #4: Musicians know that Blues is better than Yoga
Blues Music, what greater irony can there be: A style that was born from the physical and emotional hardships of African American slaves, today produces some of the most relaxed, cheerful and happy-looking musicians on the stage!
Have you ever seen a Blues guitarist jamming away with his buddies, impromptu, less concerned with the audience and applause, than with the enormous amount of fun that everyone with an instrument seems to be having?
This captures a broader fact regarding music in general: It’s a relaxant. Specifically (and scientifically) it’s been proven that music education benefits your health by lowering your brain waves and blood pressure, and can even lower your heart rate. That means that taking 10-30 minutes a day to learn a new musical instrument can have an overall positive effect on your stress-levels and even be beneficial for your physical, emotional and spiritual health.
Music Education Benefits #5: Musicians are more confident (than their loser friends)
If you’re the friend in this story, then I’m just kidding about the loser part J. If you’re the musician, then you know exactly what I mean and I don’t need to elaborate… But I still will… It’s a real simple concept!
There’s power in achievement. Popular business coaches frequently teach that the best way to get to a place where you really truly like yourself (and are not just muttering to the mirror, pretending that you do) is to increase your rate of accomplishment and achievement.
Specifically, the process of completing goals is a gigantic self-confidence booster. When you are forcing yourself through a process that takes commitment (such as getting fit, learning Mongolian, or mastering the Piano), and you see regular daily improvement, it does wonders for your feelings of self-worth. Not only in that specific area, but in all areas of life in general. It’s kind of like, when you start going to the gym regularly, you find that maintaining discipline in other areas of like become simpler as well. It has a cumulative effect.
Learning an instrument thus boosts your self-confidence, increases your rate of achievement, and sets you on the path of disciplined self-development, which always has a positive effect on your feelings of self-worth.
Music Education Benefits #6: Musicians own large banks (the memory kind)
Depending on the level or skill, and the size of the fan club, a musician may of course own a different kind of bank as well. But whether you’re a fever-inducing rock star, or an average Joe learning his first G chord, one thing all musicians have in common is the fact that they generally have better memories than their non-musician friends.
This goes hand-in-hand with the first point made about music and intelligence. Since memory plays such a large part in overall intelligence, it should make sense that music education benefits your brain’s capacity for storage.
Music and memory go hand in hand and it’s been proven scientifically that, especially in children, music at an early age improves learning ability. Specifically, recent research shows that children with musical education are able to retain up to 20% more information.
This doesn’t mean that those out of elementary school needn’t bother since, on the contrary, music education is linked to brain development irrespective of age and those over 65 have also shown dramatic improvement when they start learning an instrument.
Music Education Benefits #7: Musicians carry a skill that does not wither with time
Do you know the worst thing about being a supermodel? Or the most aggravating concept of playing for a pro-sports team? No, it’s not the millions of fans or the insanely large financial payouts, as irritating as those might be. It’s the deadline. I’ve never seen a bikinied supermodel, age 55 on a magazine cover, and I doubt that you have either.
By the time our pro-football guy turns 35 he’s usually regulated to coaching or commenting. It seems that many of the fame-related occupations that modern societies drool over, have an expiration date for its players.
But music is different. In fact, I believe that music has the exact opposite characteristic. It doesn’t fade, it doesn’t expire (until of course, you expire), and it doesn’t grow old. It only grows better.
Like acting, and unlike modeling and football, it could be argued that the more seasoned a musician becomes, the better he/she gets. Musicians carry within themselves a skill that does not wither, but like a good Sprucetop Martin Acoustic guitar, is worthy of investment: It gets more valuable, and keeps sounding better, the older it gets.
Music Education Benefits #8: Musicians understand self-expression and creativity
In the age of the Internet, many people have regulated self-expression to essentially nothing more than the act of pressing ‘like’ on a social network and sharing things that you agree with (though, oops, I do hope you will share this one and continue boosting my Musician's Ego).
Naturally there’s nothing wrong with that and I do it too, but let’s not forget the power that the arts wield over society. For generations, the pioneering work of adjusting social opinion, on whatever topic, has blossomed with artists: With the musicians, the painters, the sculptors and the poets.
If the concept of using music to change your government’s controversial policies sound way too farfetched for you, then how about the ability to sing romance songs to your favorite person? You see, whether it’s on a large or small scale, music enables its practitioners to express! (Just don’t cause a riot and end up in a Russian prison)
The second part of this has to do with the expression of creativity, something which is inherently tied to learning any instrument. My wife, who’s a poster child for creativity (she paints, plants, cooks, makes clothes, does woodwork and writes books), has taught me that expressing creativity is the antidote to boredom, or to the electronically induced sickness of general restlessness that many people today face.
Those who can play any instrument, are able to tap into this and can express themselves by creatively being challenged to become givers in life (by producing, singing, composing, playing) instead of only takers who pay mere lip-service to the idea of self-expression and creativity.
Music Education Benefits #9: Musicians carry a universal language inside of them
I’m definitely not talking about some inner channeling, spiritual, navel-gazing, mother-nature, zodiac concept. No, it’s much simpler than that: I’m talking about the universality of music. It’s one of those few human endowments, like sport, that seems to cross cultural and societal boundaries.
That doesn’t mean that different cultures do not express music differently, of course they do, and the beauty of being a musician means that you get to share and experience a part of that.
I’ve lived, as a resident and tourist, in many countries all over the world. I’ve frequently taken my guitar with me, and have been amazed at the cultural doors that music will open, even when everything else seems to fail (i.e. no matter when, how hard you try, you just cannot swallow that live octopus and pretend that you’re still having a good time).
I’ve sang American pop-songs with Koreans, eerie Gospel songs with Ukrainians, Afrikaans Music with Nigerians in Britain and Italian love songs to my wife. I’ve found that music crosses cultural boundaries with ease, and is frequently a social leveler, like dancing.
It’s common to man throughout the earth, and anyone that can play a musical instrument - even if they’re not good at it - can take part in the grand universal drama of intercontinental song, which has been with man since pre-historic times.
Music Education Benefits #10: Musicians are sexy, incredibly sexy...
You want to deny it, but you can’t.
From greasy-haired electric rockers with their tattooed Gibson’s, sleepy-eyed bassist’s and swoony Saxophone Artists. Even those Mullet-sporting European bodybuilder drummers from incomprehensible Swedish Metal Bands - Musicians are simply damn sexy!
And you want to be too! So get to it and learn an instrument! If you don’t know where to start, then I (as an online guitar instructor) will point you to the world’s most favorite stringed instrument. See the guitar lessons on my site for easy steps to mastering your first songs on guitar.
Sources: The Guardian (2009/09/10); The Huffington Post (2009/10/27); musiced.about.com; The Shankar Mahadevan Academy: Online Article [Accessed 2015/02/05]
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Music Education Benefits #1: Musicians are smart(er)
Do you remember the first time you tried driving a car? A real car (no training wheels involved)? You had to focus on the wheel, the stick, the accelerator, the mirrors, the nagging instructor, the wild animals to your left and the hysterical pregnant lady to your right. Naturally, it was completely impossible to do it all simultaneously and avoid crashing into the Porsche in front of you, or so you thought.