By Gayla Grace

Piano lessons were not an option for me as a child. My father was a trained musician who insisted his four daughters start piano lessons at an early age. I didn't always enjoy the piano and often grumbled about the mandated practice sessions (30 minutes before school and 30 minutes after). My piano teacher was strict and had high expectations of his students. But I am thankful today it was a requirement my parents didn't budge on.
Music lessons compete with a multitude of other activities for our children's time and our money. So, how do we determine if music lessons are right for our child? Does it really make a difference in the long run if we expose our children to music education? There are a lot of studies out and the evidence is overwhelming; the benefits of music lessons far outweigh the cost and inconvenience it poses to the parent to provide them.
Research cites the advantages of music lessons from preschoolers to adults. A study with six-year-old children, led by Dr. Glenn Schellenberg titled, "Music Lessons Enhance IQ," shows an increase in IQ scores for children taking piano or voice lessons for one year over the children without music lessons. Published in Psychological Science in August 2004, this research provides evidence that the study of music promotes intellectual development. Another study led by Dr. James Catterall at UCLA, tracking more than 25,000 students over a ten-year period, indicates that students who study music achieve higher test scores on standardized tests and other proficiency exams, regardless of socioeconomic background. A Columbia University study reveals that students in the arts are found to be more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident, and better able to express their ideas. And a study with adults by Dr. Frederick Tims published in AMC Music News in 1999, cites significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and loneliness following keyboard lessons. The study reports that, "during moments of musical euphoria, blood travels through the brain to areas where other stimuli can produce feelings of contentment and joy-and travels away from brain cell areas associated with depression and fear."
Other studies have identified improvements in hand-eye coordination, concentration, memory development, listening skills, and the overall process of learning through music lessons. Students also gain enhanced self-esteem and confidence as they perform in front of a teacher on a weekly basis and participate regularly in recitals or other performances.
Studying music encourages self-discipline and perseverance, along with time-management and organizational skills. Weekly lessons require students to prioritize their schedules to allow for regular practice time. When taking lessons as a child, I tried to be prepared with each assigned piece to avoid an uncomfortable lesson or reprimand by my teacher. I was heavily involved in church activities and sports at school, but I learned to manage my time to allow adequate practice time on the piano.
Music lessons can begin as early as four years old, but an older child (seven or eight years of age) has a greater attention span and focus for a musical instrument. It is important that a child have the desire to play an instrument, and not be forced by Mom or Dad to take lessons. Experimenting with different instruments will help a child determine what instrument he is best suited for. If a child begins lessons, he should commit to several months of study to gain a "feel" for the instrument.
Finding a teacher that your child can relate to is also important. Learning to play an instrument should be fun and interactive, although it requires a fair amount of work. Referrals from other parents and students can help in the selection process. Interviewing a potential teacher can help identify teaching styles and personality traits before beginning lessons. It is also important to know the fee schedule and policies regarding make-up lessons.
It is never too late to learn to play a musical instrument. As a piano instructor, I find adult students are often the most committed and disciplined in the learning process. Adults are willing to prioritize their lessons and practice time over other commitments. Adult students have better focus and longer attention spans, allowing for faster learning and greater satisfaction with the process. Music lessons offer a new challenge for adults and can have therapeutic effects.
Learning to play a musical instrument is like earning an education - once you obtain it, it cannot be taken away from you and yet, can provide enjoyment and satisfaction for the rest of your life. So, what are you waiting for? Seize the opportunity and schedule some music lessons today for you or your child!