Sure, the COVID-19 quarantine has limited how we can spend our free time: no ball games, no movies or plays, no concerts.
But that lack of options also represents an opportunity.
You can invest your spare time in learning how to play an instrument or, if you already play one, a different instrument.
And the good news: there's no age limit. You can pick up that guitar or start noodling on the piano or get serious about the saxophone no matter how old you are.
Yes, if your dream is to become a professional musician, your odds of making it are better if you start playing at a younger age. But there are many benefits to learning later in life, too.
1) Playing an instrument is good for your brain. "They say use it or lose it, and nothing exercises your grey matter like learning to coordinate your brain and body while playing music," wrote Martin Buzacott, an author, music critic and radio host.
2) It's good for your fingers, too. Many people start to suffer from arthritis as they get older, but keeping the fingers in motion can ease the pain and stiffness. Learning to play the flute, clarinet, violin or any other instrument that requires digital manipulation can help you stay nimble.
3) Music relieves stress. Simply listening to your favorite music can help you relax. Imagine how much more of a physical and emotional release you could enjoy by "blowing off steam" and expressing yourself positively through your playing.
4) Performing music can be social. Whether you're studying with a teacher, gigging with a band or just jamming around a campfire, music can bring you closer to people, both physically and emotionally.
5) Playing an instrument is fun. You might enjoy sharing your music with others. Maybe you'll love the camaraderie that comes from playing with your fellow musicians. Or you could find that learning to play provides a sense of accomplishment like you've never felt before.
Want to get started? You can search for local instructors online or contact one of the Adrian Public Schools music directors here.
Need a horn, keyboard or stringed instrument? Call our supporters at Marshall Music. They also offer sheet music and private lessons.
If you want the best for your child's brain, encourage him or her to learn how to play an instrument.
"Playing music is the brain's equivalent of a full-body workout," according to the research cited in the Ted Talk video above. The disciplined, structured practice of a musical instrument strengthens brain function, especially the visual, auditory and motor cortices. Musicians can then apply those stronger abilities to other activities and thinking.
This video is a wise 4-minute 30-second investment.
"Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance." Kids who take music lessons "have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious. These effects do not differ by socio-economic status."
Those are the findings of a 2013 study called "How Learning a Musical Instrument Affects the Development of Skills."
That research and the work of others have led to the following conclusions.
1) Studying music strengthens reading and verbal skills.
2) It improves both long and short-term memory.
3) Performing music opens up your creativity.
4) It helps you learn languages more quickly.
5) Playing music can help you become a better listener.
6) Practicing an instrument improves finger dexterity and accuracy.
7) It improves mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning.
8) Learning to play an instrument can boost the musician's I.Q.
9) Developing musical skills enhances self-confidence and self-esteem.
Learn more about each of those benefits and others in the article "Music Lessons Were the Best Thing Your Parents Ever Did for You, According to Science."
(Here's the list of music classes offered at Adrian Public Schools.)
The students and teachers of two secondary schools in London truly understand the value of music education.
Since 2014, every incoming student at the Frederick Bremer School in East London has received either a flute, violin or viola and at least three years of lessons. As a result, “the school is unrecognizable from where it was in 2014,” said teacher Jenny Smith. “We are celebrating the best results the school has ever had.”
Smith said the “music is thriving and it is infectious,” adding that it's not merely an elective class, but “absolutely at the heart of the school.”
Composer Andrew Lloyd Weber is a patron of the program: Music, he said, “helps on every level, from behavior to academic achievement and self-esteem. Music is an empowering force for all kids.”
The program has been so successful that supporters are hoping to introduce it to every school in England.
Truda White is a now-retired teacher who founded the Music in Secondary Schools Trust and used it to turn around her school in Islington. With funding from a charity, she introduced classical music lessons to her students. Soon after, the school’s rating from the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills was raised to “outstanding.”
White told The Times newspaper that the program helps “children learn to cooperate [and] concentrate. Music is transformative. Playing in an orchestra teaches teamwork, resilience and interdependence. I wanted them to learn that.”
A study of more than 100,000 Canadian students has strengthened the argument for music education.
It showed a positive relationship between participation in school music programs and higher exam scores in high school English, math and science courses. Test scores indicate that those who play an instrument benefit even more than those studying vocal music.
"Learning to play a musical instrument and playing in an ensemble is very demanding," said Martin Guhn, the study's co-author. "A student has to learn to read music notation, develop eye-hand-mind coordination, develop keen listening skills, develop team skills for playing in an ensemble and develop discipline to practice. All those learning experiences, and more, play a role in enhancing the learner's cognitive capacities, executive functions, motivation to learn in school, and self-efficacy."
The connection between music education and academic success was “independent of students’ previous (Grade 7) achievement, sex, cultural background, and neighborhood socioeconomic status, and were of considerable magnitude: The group differences observed in [the] study were greater than average annual gains in academic achievement during high school,” according to the abstract on the American Psychological Association’s website.
In other words, “students highly engaged in music were, on average, academically over one year ahead of the peers not engaged in school music.”
This study and other supporting evidence suggest that “music learning in childhood may foster competencies that support academic achievement,” and that, as a result, “educators may consider the potential positive influence of school music on students’ high school achievement.”
In an article written for The Music Parents' Guide, Grammy-nominated music educator Anthony Mazzocchi shares his insight on why music students quit their instruments and provides tips on how parents can encourage kids to keep playing. Here are some of the takeaways.
1) As a parent, you must place as much value on music as on other subjects. Mazzocchi reasons that you - and school officials - wouldn't let your student quit math or English. Because of all its benefits, music education is just as important to a child's brain development and should be regarded as a core subject that can't be dropped.
2) Students don’t know how to improve. And not getting better can lead to frustration. “Teachers must teach students why, how, where and when to practice,” writes Mazzocchi, and parents who get to know how students learn music can provide the necessary support at home.
3) Kids assume they're not musically gifted. Yes, to some people playing music comes more naturally. But, if practiced correctly, all children can enjoy success as an instrumentalist. “As long as students know how to practice and [understand] that it needs to be done regularly,” writes Mazzocchi, “they will get better.”
4) Students stop playing over the summer. If you don't play your sport for a few months, you'll get rusty. The same is true for music. So, mom and dad, encourage your young musician to make regular practice part of their summer vacation. Otherwise, they could lose much of the momentum they built up during the previous school year.
5) The instrument is not working well. As an adult, you know how annoying a task can be when your tools are in disrepair. Old reeds, sticky valves, dents that prevent proper air flow and other mechanical problems can make playing an instrument more difficult. For help, contact your band or orchestra director or call a music shop that offers repair services.
6) There may not be enough performance opportunities during the year. “The best way to motivate students musically is through performance,” suggests Mazzocchi. “Weeks or even months of practicing without performing for an audience gets old very quickly.” He says that teachers should schedule performances about six weeks apart. And, as a parent, you can hold Friday night after-dinner concerts or performances for visiting family members.
7) Make the music fun. The music your student listens to for pleasure is likely available in sheet music form, and learning to play it can be exciting for them. Your minimal investment in sheet music can pay off as a renewed passion for their instrument.
In September of 1996, world-renown trumpeter Wynton Marsalis published his "Twelve Ways to Practice" in the Education Digest. His tips are still relevant today.
1) Seek out instruction - Find an experienced teacher who knows what you should be doing. A good teacher will help you understand the purpose of practicing and can teach you ways to make practicing easier and more productive.
2) Write out a schedule - A schedule helps you organize your time. Be sure to allow time to review the fundamentals because they are the foundation of all the complicated things that come later. If you are practicing basketball, for example, be sure to put time in your schedule to practice free throws.
3) Set goals - Like a schedule, goals help you organize your time and chart your progress. Goals also act as a challenge: something to strive for in a specific period of time. If a certain task turns out to be really difficult, relax your goals: practice doesnʼt have to be painful to achieve results.
4) Concentrate - You can do more in 10 minutes of focused practice than in an hour of sighing and moaning. This means no video games, no television, no radio, just sitting still and working. Start by concentrating for a few minutes at a time and work up to longer periods gradually. Concentrated effort takes practice too, especially for young people.
5) Relax and practice slowly - Take your time; donʼt rush through things. Whenever you set out to learn something new - practicing scales, multiplication tables, verb tenses in Spanish – you need to start slowly and build up speed.
6) Practice hard things longer - Donʼt be afraid of confronting your inadequacies; spend more time practicing what you canʼt do. Adjust your schedule to reflect your strengths and weaknesses. Donʼt spend too much time doing what comes easily. Successful practice means coming face to face with your shortcomings. Donʼt be discouraged; youʼll get it eventually.
7) Practice with expression - Every day you walk around making yourself into “you,” so do everything with the proper attitude. Put all of yourself into participating and try to do your best, no matter how insignificant the task may seem. Express your “style” through how you do what you do.
8) Learn from your mistakes - None of us are perfect, but donʼt be too hard on yourself. If you drop a touchdown pass, or strike out to end the game, itʼs not the end of the world. Pick yourself up, analyze what went wrong and keep going. Most people work in groups or as part of teams. If you focus on your contributions to the overall effort, your personal mistakes wonʼt seem so terrible.
9) Donʼt show off - Itʼs hard to resist showing off when you can do something well. In high school, I learned a breathing technique so I could play a continuous trumpet solo for 10 minutes without stopping for a breath. But my father told me, “Son, those who play for applause, thatʼs all they get.” When you get caught up in doing the tricky stuff, youʼre just cheating yourself and your audience.
10) Think for yourself - Your success or failure at anything ultimately depends on your ability to solve problems, so donʼt become a robot. Think about Dick Fosbury, who invented the Fosbury Flop for the high jump. Everyone used to run up to the bar and jump over it forwards. Then Fosbury came along and jumped over the bar backwards, because he could go higher that way. Thinking for yourself helps develop your powers of judgment. Sometimes you may judge wrong and pay the price; but when you judge right you reap the rewards.
11) Be optimistic - How you feel about the world expresses who you are. When you are optimistic, things are either wonderful or becoming wonderful. Optimism helps you get over your mistakes and go on to do better. It also gives you endurance because having a positive attitude makes you feel that something great is always about to happen.
12) Look for connections - No matter what you practice, youʼll find that practicing itself relates to everything else. It takes practice to learn a language, cook good meals or get along well with people. If you develop the discipline it takes to become good at something, that discipline will help you in whatever else you do. Itʼs important to understand that kind of connection. The more you discover the relationships between things that at first seem different, the larger your world becomes. In other words, the woodshed can open up a whole world of possibilities.
The two young men profiled in this story are in Lucas County’s Youth Treatment Center for committing felonies, but members of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra are using music to help them and other kids turn their lives around.
Reporter Brigette Burnett says, “It’s not about playing the guitar or singing or playing the drums...what’s most important is...that they’re coming up with another outlet for frustration and anger while doing something productive.”
There's more good news about the benefits of music education.
A multi-decade study of more than 31,000 Florida middle school students found that those who took elective music classes - or studied the arts in another form - earned much higher grade point averages and higher scores on standardized reading and math tests.
For years, researchers have wondered if music makes kids smarter or if smarter kids just happen to opt for music education more often. According to an article on the Pacific Standard website, the authors of this study followed “a large group of low-income students from kindergarten through eighth grade. That allowed the researchers to create a baseline level of each youngster's academic accomplishments, and determine if arts classes boosted their achievement level.”
And it turns out they did!
The research found that students exposed to music and other arts-related classes not only achieved higher grades, but were less likely to be suspended from school, compared to kids who were not active in music or another art.
The study's authors concluded that "we need to protect and enhance" access to arts education because of its many benefits, including a positive impact on brain development, creativity and teamwork skills.
(Inspired by an article at Pacific Standard.)
"Exposure to music and music instruction accelerates the brain development of young children in the areas responsible for language development, sound, reading skill and speech perception."
That's the finding of researchers at the University of Southern California's Brain and Creativity Institute. Their two-year study followed 37 six and seven-year-old children from an underprivileged Los Angeles neighborhood.
Roughly one-third of the children participated in the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program, practicing music for an average of one hour per day.
One-third of the kids played in a soccer league, and another third didn't take part in any training at all.
After analyzing the electrical activity in the brains of all the children and conducting additional tests, researchers concluded that the auditory systems of the young music students had accelerated faster than those who did not play music.
According to the study's authors, music stimulates the auditory system, which also helps with sound processing in a general sense. That stimulation encourages the development of reading skills, language development and successful communication.
(Inspired by an article at Music Education Works.)