ChildrenPlato first recognised the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument two and a half thousand years ago, and modern research has confirmed that music-making combines visual, motor and auditory skills to produce a wash of stimulation throughout brain. This, in turn, boosts academic performance, and successive studies have linked playing an instrument to improved grades, particularly in languages and mathematics.
According to research by the Institute for Music and Brain Science, a major ‘brain benefit’ of making music is improved coordination and memory. It can even make your brain bigger! Dr Gottfried Schlaug, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, found that the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that transfers information from one side of our brain to the other, is larger in musicians than it is in non-musicians.
The social benefits of learning a musical instrument are also many and varied. Making music brings new purpose, and a lifelong interest that is hugely rewarding. It opens a child’s mind, and promotes focus and concentration. Best of all it’s great fun, and for me that will always be the most important reason for learning. But while it’s never too late to begin learning to play the piano, it can sometimes be a little too soon.
If your child is not ready to begin formal music lessons, there are still plenty of things that you can do to encourage their awakening musical interest. Make music a part of your everyday life: turn on the radio, listen to CDs and go to concerts. (Many of the larger orchestras now give ‘teddy concerts’, performances created especially for younger audiences.) But most important of all, play together, explore the piano and have fun!
'Monsters & Fairies' is a great little game to play with young children. Draw a monster or a fairy, and take it in turns to create the sounds that each would make at the piano (using low notes for the monsters, and high notes for the fairies). You can also tell stories, and let your child add the sound effects. Include as many details as you can: feelings, the weather, stamping feet, clattering pans, colours, whatever comes to mind!
Another game small children enjoy is imagining the sorts of noises that a piano would make if a cat walked over it. Or a hippopotamus, a snake, a bird or a bumblebee! Take it in turns to shout out the names of different animals, and replicate the sounds that each one might make. The faster you go, the more fun you'll have! I hope you will also find some inspiration from some of the websites that I’ve included on the links page.
Developing minds pick up new skills quickly, and once a child can absorb ideas and understand the concept of practice they are ready to begin lessons. For some children this may be as young as five, while others might not be ready until they are eight or nine. What matters more than anything is the desire to learn, and children who want to play will find that their confidence grows as they learn how to express themselves in new ways.