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November 12, 2018

10/17/2018 5:37:00 PM
More Room: Music Lessons
By Les Jacobson

Research tells us that music education is critical to the development of young minds. At Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Lab, directed by Prof. Nina Kraus, studies have shown that music training helps strengthen speech and reading.

People who regularly make music have “enhanced neural speech processing” important also for reading, and these benefits build up over the course of a lifetime. Furthermore, “high school music training helps brain development in at-risk adolescents.”

The evidence is convincing. But if there is any parent out there undecided about encouraging their child to play a musical instrument, let me share my story.

My grade school provided vouchers for students to rent a musical instrument of their choice, and being a big rock ‘n’ roll fan, I selected drums. This entitled me to a drum pad and two sticks. After fooling around with it for a couple of weeks, I returned the set. And except for singing in high school choir, that was the end of my performing career for the next 10 years.

At 19, finding myself with a little time on my hands, I started taking violin lessons from Sam Arron (whose son, Julian, was the concertmaster of the Evanston Symphony for many years) and that was a life-changing experience. Working with Sam was thrilling. Since then I’ve played in many community orchestras and local chamber music groups. It is always wondrous. I only wish someone had pushed me 10 years earlier.

Just off the top of my head I can list a handful of huge reasons to study music.

Intonation. Playing in tune is the most important aspect of making music. It is also impossible. A performer is never exactly in tune. Striving always to be more so is a great life lesson.

Coaching. I’ve had many fine teachers, everyone from Sam and Julian Arron to Milton Preves, the longtime principal violist of the Chicago Symphony. (I switched to viola in the 1990s. Violas are generally easier and definitely more fun to play.) The difference a great teacher can make is incalculable.

Persistence. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. But musical mastery is achieved only by a few, and anyway it’s not the point. Music is spiritual fun. There is nothing better. Keeping at it, no matter how many hours you put in, is the goal.

Ensemble. Teamwork is the point of playing music. You can practice alone for thousands of hours, but whether you’re in a garage band playing Beatles or a string quartet playing Beethoven, making music together is magic.

Beauty and Joy. Making music is one of the best remedies for life’s disappointments. As Vermeer Quartet violist Richard Young has written, “There is enough ugliness and chaos that surrounds us in our everyday lives… But at the moment we put the bow to the strings, we have the power to dictate the beauty in our immediate environment.”

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