Do you ever wonder if it was worth it? The hours spent in lessons. The time wasted at the piano when you didn't feel like practicing. The scheming to convince your parents you didn't need to practice. The recitals, exams, tears. Unless you still play, what was the point?
Most adults who took music lessons as a child feel like it was worth something. Interestingly, when I talk to parents, they often struggle to define the value of their childhood music lessons. Why do we look back at our music lessons with such nostalgic fondness, if at the time it seemed like such drudgery?
This study from the German Institute for Economic Research does a great job of listing the measurable benefits of music lessons. "Our findings suggest that adolescents with music training have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious. These effects do not differ by socioeconomic status." As parents, that's often the first reason we go to when asked why we put our kids in music lessons: Isn't it good for their brains or something?
But I'm betting that's still not really why you think music lessons are a good idea, either for your younger self or for your children. I'm guessing it's probably that you think kids these days need to learn how to do hard things, just like we did when we walked uphill both ways to school.
My husband is a typical example. He took piano lessons for over 10 years, practiced minimally, but still managed to complete his grade 8 RCM piano exam. Today, he can barely squeak out the opening bars of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, even with the music in front of him. The technical capabilities of playing have faded and the ability to read the music is mostly gone. What remains is a vivid memory of success from over 25 years ago, and sadly, few physical skills to support it.
When I asked him recently if all those years of lessons were worth it, he was adamant that they were. His reasoned that it taught him discipline, and skills like how to break down large projects into several smaller ones. Like all of you, he believes that piano lessons taught him how to work hard. And I'd agree.
But I'm going to propose a third reason why those lessons were a good idea. Yes, music lessons improved your cognitive abilities and taught you how to work hard. But those are residual effects of a much larger benefit of music lessons. See, my husband still brags about how he could at one point play Moonlight Sonata, even though in effect, all of that knowledge is now gone. He's not so much proud of the hours he clocked at the piano as he is of the fact that at one time, he was good at playing the piano. Those years of lessons taught him that hard work can yield a new skill. This is called the growth mindset, and it's one of the most valuable tools you can give a child.
The growth mindset is an attitude toward success. "It describes an underlying belief about learning – that a person believes putting in the effort means they can achieve better results and develop new skills" (read more in this article from ArtsHub.) The growth mindset is an important one for kids to adopt early on because it is this way of thinking that lets them believe that their work has purpose. According to this study from Stanford University, this concept is particularly important for girls to grasp.
Pardon the cheesiness, but your music lessons made you believe in yourself. Because of your lessons, you know that your abilities were not prescribed at birth, but a result of honing your skills over several weeks, months, and years. Your music lessons didn't just teach you how to work hard. They taught you why you should bother working at all, and that mindset motivates you even today.
Was it worth it? And is it worth for your own kids, if you're now the parent, slogging the kids through slush and rain to their lessons? Research suggests it is. But the real proof is this: Do you now believe that your hard work in the gym, office, or even in parenting, will eventually yield the desired results? Of course you do. And for that, you can be grateful for your music lessons.
Rebecca Lane is the director, founder, and owner of Upper Beaches Music School. She teaches at the school on Saturdays, but most days you can find her chasing after her three young children, one of whom is in the Suzuki violin program at UBMS.