“If your parents forced you to practice your scales by saying it would ‘build character,’ they were onto something. The Washington Post reports that one of the largest scientific studies into music’s effect on the brain has found something striking: Musical training doesn’t just affect your musical ability—it provides tremendous benefits to children’s emotional and behavioral maturation. . . . The study provides even more evidence as to why providing children with high-quality music education may be one of the most effective ways to ensure their success in life.” (1)
A Few Observations
This statement confirms something that I have always felt and believed about the many benefits of learning to play the piano: 1) Increased self-esteem results from mastering progressively difficult music and performing it on recitals; 2) Eye-hand coordination is improved as both hands (and a pedal foot) learn to work independently of one another; 3) Ability to memorize improves; 4) Time-management skills increase from planning times to practice; and 5) Students become more well-rounded as they learn to appreciate the beauty of music.
At a time when experts are realizing the amazing side-benefits of learning to play the piano or other musical instruments, music programs are being discontinued in schools at an alarming rate.
Providing piano lessons in the homes also seems to be a lower priority now than in previous generations. Last week our local newspaper showed a picture of a piano-store owner in Charleston, South Carolina, standing in his display room, who stated that he was struggling to stay in business. He added that there used to be eight or nine other piano stores in his city but each had gone out of business because piano lessons were not a priority for families any more. A sad commentary indeed, in my opinion.
A Personal Experience
During our mission to Chile in 2002-03, a large portion of my husband’s and my time was spent giving keyboard lessons to aspiring church pianists, as there seemed to be no one to accompany the hymns in church meetings. Using the Church’s Basic Course we taught members in two different stakes. Each Saturday we traveled an hour to the coastal city of San Antonio where a very supportive stake president gathered thirty-two members to be taught in a group class. Small keyboards were set up throughout the chapel to practice on. This is the story of a ten-year-old girl named Araceli and what playing the piano did for her.
Araceli was extremely shy and could hardly raise her eyes to look at us. She was in a large class with many older students and could have become lost in the class except that we noticed, as we walked throughout the class, that she had an exceptional natural talent. We began to focus on her with words of encouragement and praise. Before long, we would ask her to come to the front of the class and demonstrate something we had just taught the class.
It was hard for her to do this as first but when the class clapped for her she finally raised her head and smiled shyly. This was the beginning of her personality beginning to bloom like a beautiful flower opening toward the sun. She gained confidence in herself week by week, and by the time our mission ended some six months later she was a confident pianist accompanying hymns in her ward every Sunday.
Her devoted mother, who had accompanied her to every lesson, wrote this to us: “My shy little girl has gained more confidence than I ever thought possible. She holds her head high and greets people, she plays with confidence in the meetings, and she is such a different person. How can we ever thank you.” We had many such experiences with the other members we taught, all of which confirmed my feelings about the many benefits of learning to play the piano.
After Our Mission
We greatly missed our mission experiences when we returned home to Provo, Utah, and requested and received a call as church service missionaries to a Spanish ward in south Provo.
Half way through this mission, while I was playing the piano for Primary, I realized we needed to be preparing church pianists here as we had done in Chile. I chose four bright Primary children and offered to give them free piano lessons in my home as long as they always showed up and progressed. This was the beginning of a life-changing opportunity both for them and for me.
At the end of the first year these four children (three 11 year-olds and one 9 nine-year old) were able to confidently accompany their ward’s Primary sacrament meeting program playing my simplified arrangements of the eight program songs. I was so proud of them!
Through subsequent years they have progressed in such marvelous ways—they are wonderful students and athletes and very confident human beings who seem unafraid to tackle anything.
Now, in our sixth year of lessons, when three of them are just a year away from high school graduation, they are all the main pianists in the four different wards in which they now live.
I have no doubt that their experiences in learning to master the hymnbook, the Primary songbook and many beautiful solos have helped them to blossom in many other areas, and it is one of the most fulfilling accomplishments of my life to watch them flourish!
One of the boys had to drop out this year to pursue advanced classes in high school and to participate in sports. We recently held a recital for the other three on the grand piano in our living room, with all of their families in attendance, and I just sat back and marveled at their beautiful talents and their confidence in displaying them. The photo below was taken January 4, 2015 after the recital.
Two years ago, a beautiful family from Argentina moved into our ward while their father pursued his doctorate degree in Civil Engineering at BYU. The Dolder family was a great addition to our ward. The parents and their four children always came to ward choir and contributed many wonderful things to our ward. I knew they would only be here for a measured time so one by one I started giving piano lessons to their four children who proved to have a lot of natural ability and the discipline to practice and progress. They too participated in our piano recital and acquitted themselves very nicely. It is a joy for me to see their progress. Through a charitable organization called The Mundi Project in Salt Lake City I was able to obtain a piano for the Dolder family just as I had done with the first group of students I taught.
While pondering the subject of this article I read many testimonials on the internet from some whose ideas were substantiated, and some who had just observed personally the benefits of learning to play the piano and other instruments. Some felt that piano lessons helped students to accept and benefit from constructive criticism, to enhance their coordination, to improve their ability in math, to learn responsibility, to improve their ability to concentrate, to learn discipline, to overcome stage fright and to live a happier life.
Others felt that it creates a sense of achievement, relieves stress, fosters self-expression, develops stronger hand muscles, improves school performance and increases a healthy participation in life. The possibilities are many. Learning to play the piano is work, but it is also fun and entertaining and provides a great exercise for the brain. Most people choose to begin piano lessons for the simple joy of learning to play a musical instrument as a hobby. That’s a great reason to begin, and the side benefits that follow will be a bonus.
How We Can Promote Better Participation
Referring back to the recent study referred to at the beginning of this article the author reveals what he calls “a terrifying truth” about the American Education System:
“Three quarters of high school students rarely or never receive extracurricular lessons in music or the arts. And that’s depriving kids of way more than just knowing an instrument. School systems that don’t dedicate adequate time and resources to musical training are robbing their kids of so much. . . . Music can be a powerful tool in helping to close the achievement gaps that have plagued American schools for so long. It’s even been shown that children who receive musical training in school also tend to be more civically engaged and maintain higher grade-point averages than children who don’t. In short, musical education can address many of the systemic problems in American education.” (2)
There is a lot of evidence, whether scientific or anecdotal, that playing music is good for us. For those who have led musically-active lives but are now retired and have a little extra discretionary time on your hands I can say with a degree of certainty that passing those wonderful musical skills on to others can provide you with great satisfaction and give added meaning to your lives. Providing music lessons for those who otherwise could not afford lessons, and watching the difference it makes in their lives, will also make a big difference in your life.
Let’s be thankful for music that is in us, and look for chances to pass it along.
Thanks For the Music
Words & Music by Janice Kapp Perry
Solo: Steven Kapp Perry
Thanks for the music that’s in me,
Thanks for the warm and gentle magic of a melody
Is it a memory that time could not erase
Rising within me from another time and place
Do I hear something that others do not hear
Things that I sense I have heard before, but where
Are these the sounds of heav’n that bring me to my knees
Saying, “Thanks for the music in me”
In the quiet times, when I’m all alone
I close my eyes and think about the melodies I’ve know
In the lonely hours, sitting silently
The song that make me whole again keep coming back to me
In the rev’rent hours, when I know He’s there
I raise my voice to heaven and my song becomes a prayer
And when life is good, and my heart is full
Sweet music deep within me stirs to fill my mind and soul
Repeat chorus: (first 7 lines)
Saying thanks for the music, thanks for the music in me.
Janice Kapp Perry: Composer, author, lecturer
(1) Tom Barnes, “Science Just Discovered Something Amazing About What Childhood Piano Lessons Did to You, Washington Post, January 8, 2015.
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