As a violin teacher specializing in young beginners, I have seen first hand the difference music can make in a child’s life. It is not just a vehicle for expression. Learning to play a musical instrument can increase a child’s attention span and academic performance.
Roy P. Martin, researcher for the College Of Education at the University Of Georgia, recently found that there is a commonality of skills necessary to both play an instrument and succeed academically. Himself a violinist, Martin points out that playing an instrument also increases self-esteem and fosters social skills, providing a much-needed mentor relationship between teacher and student.
Special needs children, in particular, benefit greatly from music lessons. Some may even be “pre-wired” for it. It is estimated that 40% of kids on an autistic spectrum have perfect or relative pitch, twice the level found in the general population.
Over the years, I have had several special needs students, but there are two that provide perfect examples of how music can increase concentration and aid in the development of fine motor skills. The first child had a mild neurological disorder, which made gripping things with his right hand challenging. Over the course of a few months of violin lessons, he learned to hold the bow steadily, and his newfound strength translated into better penmanship and increased coordination. The second child had ADHD. After four months of violin lessons, her attention span increased exponentially, but her parents pulled her from the violin program citing a scheduling conflict with soccer. Two weeks later, the student’s elementary school principal phoned me lamenting that the student’s attention span and academic performance had decreased when our lessons stopped. At the principal’s urging, her parents reenrolled her as a private student, and her overall performance at school improved once again.
Learning how to play the violin requires a student to absorb something very complicated in incremental stages, breaking down a large task into smaller ones. At its core, music teaches children how to delay gratification and struggle through difficulty. Kids who feel like they can do something as challenging as playing the violin will be able to break down large intellectual tasks into smaller increments, which will in turn build confidence for the future.
I have learned that music can be a lifelong friend. If you master an instrument early in life, you can always return to it later on.
David Zimbalist is the founder and arranger of Speakeasy String Quartet, which specializes in note-for-note transcriptions of jazz and other musical styles from the 1920’s. His arrangements and scholarly research have been published in Strings Magazine. David teaches Violin and Viola, specializing in young beginners. Chaia May has a music studio that includes instruction in piano, guitar, voice and general music for children age 2 to adult. She specializes in children with unique learning styles and focuses on fostering a lifelong love of music.