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Life lessons learned through music lessons

Enrich your child with an instrument

Our children's schedules are already so jam packed with school and extracurricular activities, you may think it's too much to even think about adding one more thing. Moms, music teachers and even students cite the benefits of music lessons that make this enrichment activity worthwhile.  

Discipline and determination
Darren Hoffmann, an 8th grade student at Van Wyck Junior High School in Wappingers Falls, began playing the oboe when he was in elementary school. He credits his music lessons with teaching him the value of hard work. "Music has helped me have a good work ethic," he says. "You have to work hard to be good at your instrument and working hard helps you in plenty of other aspects in your life." Halfway through seventh grade, Darren decided to learn how to play the bassoon, which was a challenge. "I had to learn all new fingerings which took a long time, but after weeks of practicing I started playing in band," Darren explains. "All you need to do is put in the time each day and you can reach any goal."

Steven Kieley is the band teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School in Poughkeepsie, Sheafe Road Elementary School in Wappingers Falls, Kinry Road Elementary School in Poughkeepsie and has taught in the Wappingers Central School District for 33 years. He sees firsthand how his students learn discipline through their music lessons. "Instrumental music study provides students of all ages with the opportunity to learn to be patient and persistent, to delay gratification and to work hard in order to sound better both individually and as a contributor to the overall sound of their ensemble," Kieley says. As the band teacher, Kieley only has 30-40 minutes each week in a small group lesson to teach students technique. The real learning and growth, Kieley explains, only takes place when students choose to put in the work during their home practice time. "Music is one subject where the parent cannot do the homework for their child. Music study engenders self-reliance, a skill that will help them navigate school and life. For this reason, music study has a profound effect on a child's life, both within and beyond the school walls," he says.

Vanessa Johnson of Wappingers Falls has seen her son Caleb's determination grow after he started piano lessons at school this past year. "I have seen more perseverance in him and he is confident in his skill. I have personally watched him try and solve problems with the notes when he tries to play by ear," she says. "His teacher told me he showed her what he had figured out on his own and asked her for help with what he couldn't. I believe that's two life lessons right there, the ability to problem solve, but also knowing when to ask for help."

Confidence and self-esteem

Megan Wentworth is the music teacher at St. Mary's School in Fishkill. She has seen her students' confidence levels soar as result of their exploration of music. "Every child is different and when they are able to learn about music or how to play an instrument, they often find a hidden talent. Music lessons give them a sense of pride in their abilities that they may not have yet discovered," she says.

Tracey Amenta has two sons who both got started playing music at a young age, and who both currently play the bass at John Jay High school in Hopewell Junction. One of her sons was a very shy child. "His music gave him confidence," Amenta says. "He had to converse with lots of people, be confident and self-aware." Amenta says that she tells people all the time that music has made her children better people. "They are comfortable in front of crowds and respectful to adults. I feel they have learned a lot by playing their music in front of an audience and conversing with listeners," she explains.

Improve academic performance
Music lessons have been found to increase learning abilities in other academic areas and help students to be better-rounded in all areas of study. Richard Guillen is the music department coordinator and director of bands at Arlington High School in Lagrangeville. "I have seen many positive changes in students over the years," he says. "Music teaches so much more than 'music'. It aids in language development and it improves academic skills. Some studies have shown an increase in IQ, improved test scores, and better spatial-temporal intelligence."

Here are some compelling statistics:
• Students involved in public school music programs scored 107 points higher on the SAT according to the College Entrance Examination Board.

• Data from The U.S. Department of Education on more than 25,000 secondary school students showed that students who report consistent high levels of involvement in instrumental music during the middle and high school years show significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12.

• Lewis Thomas, physician and biologist, found that music majors comprise 66% (the highest percentage) of accepted medical students.

• The National Association of Music found that music stimulates small muscle skills and is essential in language development and brain development.

Kody Andreas, music teacher at Nassau Elementary School in Poughkeepsie, uses music to promote learning in other subjects. "I build cross-disciplinary connections and relevance into my curriculum and teaching. World music allows students to learn about geography, cultural differences, foreign languages and history. Songs and chants help to develop and reinforce reading, writing and speech skills. Movement, dance and instrument playing develop fine and gross motor skills and allow students to discover the physicality of using and controlling their bodies. The study of beat and rhythm directly relates to the study of mathematics," he explains.

Tap into your emotions through music
Perhaps the greatest benefit of music is the way it is accessible to everyone, connects us all and allows us to channel our emotions. This can be especially beneficial to children who are still learning how to handle their feelings. "Music is one of the most expressive art forms," says Andreas. "Even at the primary grade levels, I find that students often don't have the tools to handle the emotional and social difficulties that arise." While preparing for his kindergarten concert, Andreas saw an opportunity for a teachable moment. "We had a few students who started to cry during our final 'goodbye' song because the music moved them," he explains. "I was able to explain to these five and six-year-old musicians that it's okay to cry. Sometimes we listen and perform songs that make us feel happy, scared, excited and sometimes sad. These students crying showed their peers that they understood the song. It is truly beneficial for students to have a tool to express and manage their emotions."

Caren Bennett is an editorial assistant for the American Payroll Association. She lives with her husband, three children and rambunctious Labrador.