Recently I was invited by my old secondary school to come and give a talk. They’d noticed a reduction in the number of students taking part in musical events, so my pep talk was designed to enthuse the students with the idea of learning music. I decided to give them a list of as many of the benefits that music confers as I could think of. And it turned out to be quite a long list! Let me know if I have missed anything out.
1. Emotional outlet. Music was a refuge during my teenage years from the stresses and anxieties of life – and still is! Not only is playing music a way of expressing your emotions, listening to it can take you into another world and give you some breathing space away from daily problems. Music is fundamentally a language of emotions, touching on feelings beyond words, as we see in the Celtic keening tradition of singing to soothe mourners, or a mother’s lullaby to calm her baby to sleep. Music can energize too – there’s nothing like a Jimi Hendrix guitar riff to help you get through your gym work out.
2. Confidence. Progressing on an instrument gives a sense of achievement as, step by step, you begin to master it. Things that seemed nearly impossible are gradually brought within your grasp, building your confidence in your ability to make progress – a lesson that can be applied in many other areas.
3. Social Skills. Once you play an instrument or sing, it won’t be long before you’re invited to collaborate with others. Now all your social skills will come in to play as you negotiate ways of working in a group, sometimes giving way to others, sometimes taking control. You get to know people on a deep level when you work on a performance together. In fact for many bands it’s all too much and ends in acrimonious dispute – Oasis and Guns N Roses spring to mind.
4. Meet new people. Joining a music group can be a way of meeting people outside your usual social sphere. When I was a teenager I thought it was cool – I’ve no idea why – that I met older boys by joining the local wind band.
5. Music makes you smarter. Yes, it’s a fact backed up by science: musicians’ brains look different because they contain more myelin than average. Myelin is the white matter in the brain that hardwires links between different areas. The dexterity involved in playing music requires left and right hemispheres to be more interlinked, hence more myelin is present. Learning an instrument tends to make you better at other subjects as well because of this increased capacity.
6. A useful skill throughout life. The time to get a grounding in music is when you are young. It is possible to learn an instrument when you are older but it’s harder. Once acquired, music is a skill you can take wherever you go in adult life and one which can come in handy in all sorts of settings from fundraising concerts with the local choir to accompanying a family get-together.
7. Performance. The performance aspect of music can be daunting at first but once initial nerves are overcome, performing reaps huge rewards in terms of personal confidence. I remember feeling quite shy as a teenager but the experience of playing music to people really opened me up and boosted my confidence.
8. It’s Creative. At times school can seem to be only about fact learning and regurgitating. Music on the other hand can be a means of expressing yourself. Even with limited knowledge of an instrument and using only a few notes, you can write a song – Punk showed us that! You make creative decisions when deciding how to play or sing another composer’s music too. There is no such thing as the correct way – you are in the driving seat.
9. It’s Physical. Most instruments require some sort of manual dexterity and physical fitness. Added to that, playing wind instruments or singing really develops your breathing and lung capacity.
10. IT’S ENJOYABLE. Performing music is a really enjoyable way to pass the time and what could be more important particularly during this period of uncertainty?
Many of music’s qualities apply to other subjects of course but the way music combines the emotional, the intellectual, the social and the physical in one discipline is unique. Anyone who makes music, on no matter what level, will certainly reap rich benefits.
The man that has no music in himself
Nor is not moved by concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons stratagems and spoils……
Let no such man be trusted
Shakespeare The Merchant of Venice