living well

Music to Parents' Ears
by Jennifer Burns
One of the biggest trends in baby accessories in the last few years has been the production of videos such as Baby Beethoven, Baby Mozart, and Baby Bach, where children watch interesting shapes, pictures, or colors flash across the television screen while the composer's music plays in the background. Children are supposedly exposed to "the Mozart Effect," which claims that through listening to this type of music, children can improve verbal ability, spatial intelligence, creativity, and memory. If music benefits children that much by just listening, imagine the benefits performing the music on an instrument could have for a youngster.

Physically, playing an instrument can improve dexterity and hand/eye coordination. Children who play a wind instrument may also improve breathing and lung capacity. Mentally, the benefits are astounding. According to a study done by Jeffrey Lynn Kluball of the University of Sarasota and Daryl Erick Trent of East Texas State University, "Middle school and high school students who participated in instrumental music scored significantly higher than their non-band peers in standardized tests. University studies conducted in Georgia and Texas found significant correlations between the number of years of instrumental music instruction and academic achievement in math, science, and language arts."

Music has also been proven to increase students' math and science abilities. In one study, children who played a musical instrument scored higher in math and science than children who took a computer-training course. According to the March 1999 issue of Neurological Research, "Music study can help kids understand advanced math concepts. A grasp of proportional math and fractions is a prerequisite to math at higher levels, and children who do not master these areas cannot understand more advanced math critical to high-tech fields. Music involves ratios, fractions, proportions, and thinking in space and time. Second-grade students were given four months of piano keyboard training, as well as time using newly designed math software. The group scored over 27 percent higher on proportional math and fractions tests than children who used only the math software."

As children grow older, results can be seen through standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT. "High school music students score higher on SATs in both verbal and math than their peers. In 2001, SAT takers with coursework/experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 41 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework/experience in the arts," as noted in a profile of SAT and achievement test takers for the College Board (compiled by Music Educators National Conference, 2001). Many factors can determine which instrument is right for your child. Physical factors, such as the size and shape of a child's mouth, may determine whether he should play a wind instrument. Larger, heavier instruments may be too much for a smaller child to carry and hold.

Socially, children can adapt to participating in a group from the experience of performing in an ensemble or band. Students who participate in music are also less likely to get involved with drugs, tobacco, or alcohol, and have generally higher self esteem.

Kidder Music President Beth Houlihan not only works in music retail, but has also been active in music for most of her life. She plays the piano and clarinet, and sings in the Morton Civic Chorus. "The benefits of being involved in music of any kind are exponential," she said, and have helped her to develop team building and social skills.

Kidder Music offers everything related to school music, including instruments for rental or purchase, repairs, music and accessories, lessons, and preschool tours. They also support school music programs and work closely with music teachers to provide what their students and programs need to succeed.

When choosing an instrument for your child, many factors can determine which instrument is right for them. Some physical factors may help or hinder a child's ability to play an instrument. The size or shape of a child's mouth may determine whether or not he should play a wind instrument. For example, a child with a very pronounced "teardrop" on his upper lip may not be best suited to play the flute. Also, some larger instruments may not be ideal for small children, as they could be hard to carry, let alone hold for long periods of time. "If the student is considering a string instrument, size may be important," Houlihan said. "In the case of the percussion instruments, hand/eye coordination and the ability to process counting and rhythms may be the most important prerequisites. In any case, it's always best to start with what instrument interests them the most. Then the student needs to try the instrument to ensure that he or she can make a sound on it. If the student successfully can make a sound on the instrument, then let the lessons begin."

However, one of the greatest factors in purchasing an instrument is the price parents are willing to spend. An instrument is an investment, not just a one-time purchase; therefore, parents must research carefully in order to decide which instrument will best suit their children. In order to learn more about each instrument and the future costs involved, parents should talk to local music teachers and retailers, or do some research on the Internet.

"There's quite a wide range in prices of instruments and accessories needed to play an instrument," Houlihan said. "Suzuki-sized violins rent as low as $16 a month, while a French horn would cost over $50 monthly."

There are several options in purchasing an instrument, and many area retailers offer rental or rent-to-own programs. Other cost considerations include stands, care and cleaning kits, reeds (for woodwind instruments), and instruction booklets. The costs of lessons can also fluctuate.

"Lessons at Kidder Music are $60 per month, which includes one half-hour lesson per week," Houlihan said. "However, private teachers set their own rates, which will vary. Students involved in school music programs get their basic instruction free of charge."

If you're wondering when to start considering bringing music into your child's life, it's never too early, according to Houlihan. "Children can start participating in music at any age," she said. "Infants can shake rattles in rhythm. There are Kindermusik programs just for infants and toddlers that focus on rhythm instruments. A child can begin piano or violin instruction around the age of 3, but for wind instruments you must wait until the child's hands are large enough to hold the instrument and operate the keys, and for their lungs to develop enough capacity to produce the required amount of air."

While some stages in development may be too early for some instruments, don't worry if you or your children are starting an instrument at a later age. "It's never too late to learn an instrument," said Houlihan. "Many adults and seniors are taking up the instrument they always wanted to learn, now that they have the time. Adults reap the benefits of music making as well, both physically and mentally."

Not only have studies shown music lessons' benefits for children, but for adults as well. Participating in such activities has been shown to slow or deter the development of dementia in older adults. Also, as the 2006 American Music Conference found, "A compelling new crop of scientific findings links active music-making to measurable improvements in human well-being, especially in older people. Loneliness, depression, and even the effects of Alzheimer's Disease have been shown to respond to music, and some studies have even linked music-making to better functioning of the immune system."

After purchasing the instrument, practice is key for any musician. However, the first set of practices shouldn't be too extensive, as the child is just starting to get comfortable with his new instrument, and you don't want to turn him off his new creative outlet. "At the beginning, practice sessions may only last 10 to 15 minutes a couple of times a day," Houlihan said. "That time will increase as the student builds his or her skills as well as their muscles. The teacher will assign the student certain tasks, including technical exercises, music theory homework, and specific pieces of music to practice. There are also fun books such as Disney songs and movie themes written at all levels, so students can play a song of their choosing just for fun."

For more information, call 692-4040 or visit a&s