It’s been a long, draining school day. The boy in the waiting room clutches his trumpet case. His eyes are weary; sleep tugs at his lids. The screen time today has been excessive; even his gym teacher found a way to put him in front of a computer this morning. He couldn’t look at another screen today if he tried.
In a few minutes, his music instructor will call him into a practice room for his lesson. He has been waiting for this all day. All week.
When he pulls out his trumpet, he will use all of his brain.
He will use his eyes to read the music and his teacher’s face. He will use his hands and mouth to make sound. He will use his ears to hear the notes — the story of the song. Both his creative side and his logical side will be engaged as he reads and performs the music for his teacher.
And what happens in that room is just the beginning. The patience, persistence and discipline required to learn and play music well sets a child up for a lifetime of success. When this boy’s parent signed him up for music lessons, he signed him up for more than he could ever have realized.
In a masked world that can feel awfully lonely, music brings us together.
“Right now, during this pandemic, the greatest benefit of music education is emotional,” says Ji-eun Lee, director of Ji-eun Lee Music Academy in Fishers. “Children are depressed because of the pandemic. Music gives them an emotional outlet. Music is giving kids a break from screen time.”
At Lee’s studio, lessons are offered in person and virtually. Even with virtual lessons, Lee says the students are receiving one-on-one connection with an instructor — a connection they may be missing because of how our world has changed.
The process of learning an instrument, and then learning to play music, is challenging and time-consuming.
“Students learn routine from practice time,” Lee says. “It’s about self-discipline. It’s not like school work. It requires self–motivation.”
Students must have a passion for music in order to stick with it. “One needs a lot of patience, discipline, strength and dedication to become a musician,” says Judy Yin-Chi Lee, a former student at the IU School of Music and the director of community engagement for New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. “For a kid to learn how to play an instrument, she is taught to have patience and to never give up when things get hard in order to succeed. That is an important life lesson.”
Playing music requires the whole brain. “Learning how to play an instrument is the best way to exercise and strengthen brain muscles that typically aren’t used simultaneously,” Yin-Chi Lee says. “In order to sound an instrument, you have to use your eyes to read the music, your hands [and sometimes feet] to operate the instrument, your ears to listen. And all at the same time.”
Studying the history of music from around the world opens children up to new ways of understanding and perceiving.
“Kids are so accustomed to pop music,” Lee says. But there are so many other ways to hear the world. Lee shares that students will encounter different sounds while studying and playing their method books. They may play an American folk song one day and an Asian song the next. Then when studying how history and culture intertwine with the music of a place and time, students have a broader understanding of the world.
“Music opens up one’s mind to be receptive of differences, and they learn to appreciate different cultures,” Yin-Chi Lee says.
Music is a universal language. Music puts sound to both feeling and experiences; it connects people (and sometimes animals) when words cannot.
Music makes words unnecessary, but when they are, music can help with that, too. It turns out that studying music can actually strengthen a child’s foundational literacy skills. According to a 2007 Northwestern study, music training — with its effect on students’ understanding of sight and sound — may be more enhancing for verbal communication skills than phonological studies.”
In addition, musicians become practiced communicators when working with one another and alongside each other. “In music, you use your ears to listen and work well with others,” Yin-Chi Lee says.