Music soothes…music heals…music inspires…music is simply magical.
And yet, based on several conversations I’ve had this week, I fear that it is being squeezed out of our children’s lives. Some parents are pushing their children to participate in full-year competitive sports, while other parents aren’t pushing their kids on anything due to their own stressed lives. Children are increasingly screen-centered, and school budgets are being cut. It’s all a tragic shame.
Children need music. I don’t mean silly dances or lip syncing on TikTok. Children need to participate in and learn to play music for the sake of their emotional and intellectual growth. I watched it in my own children, and the science backs it up.
My husband and I both grew up in musical homes. My grandfather actually was a professional violinist in movie theaters during the era of silent movies. When we had our girls, music was always part of our home, starting with the 1908 player piano that we inherited from my father-in-law soon after we bought our house.
The girls loved playing that piano even when they were preschoolers, standing on their tippy-toes, clutching the edge of the piano while they pumped the pedals and the keys moved “magically” on their own. We had many parties with neighborhood kids and our young nieces and nephews where the kids danced to old-time songs such as Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” Christmas songs and Disney classics.
When they got a little older, both girls started playing instruments—piano lessons for both at home plus violin for one and cello for the other when orchestra started in elementary school. For our older daughter in particular, music was a love and a salvation. By the time she got to high school, she played classical piano at home as well as in the school jazz band and cello in the orchestra. Too much? Not really. Music for her was a mental and emotional break from the rigors of academics and varsity sports. In spite of a very challenging academic schedule, she chose to continue with both orchestra and jazz band through high school rather than take free periods during her day to work on homework. Why? Because the music calmed her and helped reset her brain in a way that study hall wouldn’t have done.
Studies show that she was right. Researchers in Zurich and Massachusetts found relaxing music provided faster recovery from stress than listening to the sounds of water or sitting in silence. In fact, music is so powerful that it has been shown to improve outcomes of invasive—and stressful—medical procedures while also reducing the need for painkillers.
Music’s benefits go well beyond stress. A meta-analysis of 63 studies at The University of Queensland in Brisbane in Australia found health benefits of all aspects from musical interaction, including passive listening, dancing, singing and instrument playing. Of particular note, instrument playing showed positive effects on six of the seven measures of health and well-being—physiological arousal, emotion/mood, cognitive (including memory), self-esteem/achievement, physical activation and social connection. Only identity was not impacted by playing a musical instrument.
And in a different meta-analysis of research about music’s effect on adult and children’s intellectual development, researchers from University of Liverpool wrote that, in spite of research design flaws in many of the studies, music helped improve working memory and, among children and adolescents, even showed a modest increase in IQ.
Anyone who has read the book or watched the movie The Notebook has seen how music can live in the deepest places of the brain. Early in the movie, young Allie plays Chopin’s Prelude in E-Minor. When Allie is older and suffering from dementia, she is still able to play Chopin from memory. A tear-filled moment for every viewer.
So why am I talking about this now? I know that I am stating the obvious when I talk about how good music is for everyone, especially kids. But I have spent the past week trying to sell our piano and my daughter’s cello as we start to downsize to sell our home (a different blog for a different day). I contacted the people from whom we bought both instruments, the girls’ past teachers and even some other musicians about selling them, and I keep hearing the same things…
- Fewer children are playing musical instruments.
- Children have less time than ever to practice due to overcommitment in other activities
- Parents are not actively committed to their children’s success when it comes to their music lessons.
Financial allocations to music programs have been cut for years as school budgets tighten and more money is spent on special learning needs, administrative requirements and more. This is especially true in lower-income and inner-city school systems.
Everyone I spoke to is deeply saddened by these trends. They love music and love seeing children love music. Every time I listen to the “piano solo” channel on Spotify, I step back in time and hear the many songs that my girls played through the years. I remember the amazing recitals, and those funny little “klunkers” when they were trying to learn a new piece. Of all the teachers our girls had through the years, I remember every single music teacher because each one played such a big role in the lives of all of their students.
With children suffering from stress, anxiety and depression more than ever before, they need music in their lives. But they won’t find it on their own. It starts in the home with parents who take the time to share it and encourage it. For parents of young children, I encourage you to invest in their musical future. For those adults who played when they were young and haven’t in forever, try opening up those old music books. I did it recently, and it truly did calm this savage beast.
As for the cello…we are not selling it. We will donate it to the school so that someone who might otherwise not be able to afford to participate now can have the gift of music.