Some people assume that music training is only for the 'gifted' or talented, the modern-day Mozart. Students or parents can easily fall into the comparison trap with their peers, other kids, and even professionals musicians. They may become embarrassed if they don’t sing like Beyonce or play the guitar like Slash.
I often work with parents who believe that their child is not particularly musically gifted. These parents confide in me that they fear involving their child in music puts them at risk for failure or a false sense of self. They ask me whether they should continue financing music lessons, ensembles, or other music-related extracurriculars believing that this is not where their child will inevitably end up in a future career.
Here are some thoughts I have on the music participation conundrum:
Music a part of every culture in the world.
Music is often described as the universal language. This concept is rooted in the shared or common experience of music that transcends language, but that's not necessarily true. Different cultures have different rules for music. When you come from a culture where the rules are different, your ear will not adjust easily. I can tell you from my experience listening to Eastern European folk music in graduate school, my ear is trained to enjoy traditional Western harmonies and structure.
Musical taste aside, there is something universal about music: all cultures have it. And it is a central part of the community in most cultures. From weddings to birthdays, religious rituals to social events, music has and continues to be a major force for bringing groups of people together.
Think about the best wedding you have ever attended in your life. If I were to guess, that wedding was great because of the reception. What makes receptions so much fun? The music! And when everyone is up on the dance floor and singing along to classic party songs, the group dynamic is perfection.
If music in these situations can have such a positive effect on the human experience, why can’t that effect be depend or encouraged through regular, habitual music participation? Why can’t we all enjoy music together regularly?
There's no reason not to! Your child doesn’t need to be first chair or the lead in the school play in order to benefit from the personal and communal growth that happens by simply being in a music group.
Knowledge of music is always a good thing.
Cultivating and developing an understanding of music never goes out of style. Participating in the school band, chorus, orchestra, or theatre never looks bad on a college resume. While styles of music and the opportunities to be involved in music may change over time, the benefits of being involved are timeless and limitless!
Musical knowledge and background also translates into the workplace. Knowledge of classical music can help a teacher in her classroom when she plays the Brandenburg Concerto during writing time. Recognizing rhythmic patterns on a percussion instrument and how they interact with the body can be essential to a physical therapist. Inviting your coworkers to see you in a musical production of “The Producers” will make you seem fun and approachable on a business deal.
Knowledge is power. And knowledge of music (literally) amplifies that power! And here’s the thing: you don’t need to be a professional musician to use music in your career. That teacher can be the last chair violinist in the community orchestra in her town and still enrich her students. The physical therapist can only understand how to keep a simple beat yet manage to strengthen each client through music. And the business professional can be in the back row of the chorus and still impress colleagues.
The very fact that you’re involved in music makes you a more well-rounded individual and gives you more resources to work with. Knowing more is never a detriment!
Music makes you happier.
Scientists still don’t entirely understand all of the benefits of music on the human mind and body. But they do know one thing: music makes you happier. Listening to music releases dopamine in the brain that literally make you happier. Have you ever listened to or participated in music and felt goosebumps? That comes from a surge in dopamine being created from the pleasure of the music experience.
And something to think about: the dopamine doesn't distinguish between degrees of talent! You can be the 'tone deaf'* member of your chorus or the one offbeat clapper and still feel these dopamine. Investing in musical activities is making an investment in your happiness.
Okay, so maybe little Timmy isn’t going to be the next Paul McCartney. But you know who Timmy is going to be? A great Timmy. And your investment into his happiness, his well-roundedness and community engagement will help with that. Thank you for all that you do to make your young musicians, regardless of skill or aptitude, an essential part of our music community!
Do you struggle with wondering if you or your child should continue with music lessons? Have you had an experience where you stayed with it and it turned out to be a great decision? Share your comments below.
*I'm reminded here of what Benjamin Zander says in his great TED Talk, The Transformative Power of Classical Music. When discussing the subject of if people can be 'tone deaf,' Zander asks, 'When your mother calls you on the phone, how do you know that it is her? If you recognize the voice, then you're not tone deaf.'