My kid says guitar is good for his soul. But lessons are costly! Comments? — Money-Saving Mom, Mound, MN
With their lips pursed and cheeks inflating and deflating like concertinas, the middle school band headed toward the climax of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while I sat spellbound by their foot tapping, finger pumping, head nodding harmony. As their eyes marched across their scores, breaking rhythm only to throw a cursory glance at the band-master who swung his baton steadily through the air, backwards and forwards like a giant metronome, I noticed my own feet pick up the beat.
And then, lulled by Queen’s timeless chords, I was transported back to my childhood and my aunt’s house, where my uncle lolled, long haired and sockless beside his record player on the floor, eyes closed, humming along to Freddy Mercury’s legendary four octave vocals. And then magically, the scene shifted and I saw my teenage self, hips swiveling to the sounds of Brian May’s guitar, arms in the air, embracing the ’80s disco scene. And then fast forward to a New Year’s Eve, an English pub overflowing with friends and acquaintances, as “We are the Champions!” serenaded us into a new century.
I awoke from my reverie as the final notes of “Bohemian Rhapsody” petered away to an onslaught of clapping. And, as I too cheered the performance, I realized that my musical trip down memory lane had washed me clean, lifted my tired mother’s spirits and reminded me how music holds the power to stir the soul.
Providing kids with an instrument can be a costly undertaking; but if you can beg, borrow or finagle an instrument from a friend or family member or pick up a second-hand deal, it’s worth it. The gift of music gives kids a mind, body and spiritual workout that is second to none.
How so? Playing an instrument provides spirited kids with an intense, multisensory and motor experience as musicians experience the music through their fingers and throughout their bodies. It’s an activity that engages almost every area of the brain, especially the visual, auditory and motor cortices — and that has ramifications for learning.
For example, a study on the effects of music training by researchers at Northwestern University found that (as reported by USA Today,) “Music training shapes the development of the brain and nervous system in a way that improves students’ language learning and acquisition and also improves a student’s ability to listen in a noisy environment and hear the important messages, despite the accompanying noise,” according to Dr. Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern. Specifically, kids who had two years or more of instrument playing were better able to distinguish between similar word sounds, such as the differences between “pill” and “bill.” For beginner readers or for readers with dyslexia who often find it more difficult to decode sounds, music training may help!
Similarly, a January 2013 study entitled, “Early Musical Training and White-Matter Plasticity in the Corpus Callosum: Evidence for a Sensitive Period” discovered that musical training before age 7 — specifically that early focus on coordination between the hand and visual or auditory stimuli — helped develop better connections across the corpus callosum (the bridge that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain.) As Dr. Art Kramer, professor of psychology at Illinois University says, “Since nothing in the brain gets done by one area — the brain is really a circuit — the better the connectivity, the better the performance, especially for executive thinking tasks, like scheduling, multitasking and working memory, too.”
Of course, whatever age your child picks up an instrument, there’s a brain gain to be made. Dr. Lutz Jäncke, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, found that whatever the age of the individual, studying an instrument improves IQ levels by 7 points. And a 10-year research study of 25,000 8th- and 10th-grade students conducted by Dr. James Catterall, professor of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information, proved that students who studied music and the arts had higher grades, scored better on standardized tests, had better attendance records and were more active in community affairs than other students, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. And that’s music to our ears!
But a musical education isn’t just great for that grey matter; it’s good for a kid’s body and spirit, too! Why? The playing of music busts stress and helps kids relax. Blowing into an instrument encourages slow, deep breathing, which helps regulate the heartbeat and calms kids down, while drumming, for example, is fun and physical and offers kids a great way to thump away their worries and concerns.
As kids practice their playing, either on their own or with others, they enter a musical sanctuary where they can focus on their musical accomplishment and simply enjoy the act of making music. And whether kids play tunes they love and know, or learn pieces that inspire and enthrall them or create new music with other kids, music-making offers kids a creative outlet that can soothe and comfort them and help them feel whole again.
Research conducted by Barry Bittman, M.D., CEO/medical director of Meadville (Pa.) Medical Center’s Mind-Body Wellness Center and CEO of the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute at Bethesda Children’s Home, concurs. Here, teens who were depressed, angry or disruptive participated in structured music-making for a year using drums and a Clavinova computerized keyboard. At the end of the year, the research showed improvements in their behavior. The kids cited less depression, less negative self-evaluation and less anger and interpersonal problems than a control group that was also evaluated. Their academic performance was, of course, positively impacted, too. As Larry Dickson, M.A., clinical director for Bethesda Children’s Home (as reported to NAMM Foundation) said, music provided the teens with a “productive way to express and better understand their feelings…(and helped them) discover a new sense of self-worth and respect for others that often led to surprising transformations.”
Music simply lifts kids’ spirits and helps heal their soul. So, encourage your kids to tickle the ivories, jazz things up or pluck those strings and join in, for some family fun that’s good (heart, mind and soul) for everyone!
Harmony Project Research
Northwestern Study: Benefits of Music Class
Research on Development and Music
Music Therapy for Dementia
Making Music Reduces Stress
How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain
Benefits of Learning to Play Music
Learning to Play the Piano
Learning an Instrument Boosts Brain Power
Playing a Musical Instrument and Good Health
Why Everyone should Play a Musical Instrument
Music Relieves Stress & Promotes a Positive Attitude
Brain Neurology Research on Music
New Research on Playing Music
Walking is Good Brain Exercise
Breath Control helps quell errant Stress Response
Tricks to Activate Both Sides of the Brain