By Laura Yeh
In teaching young people to play violin and ocarina, I see them also learning skills that will help them in their studies, life and work. One of the amazing things about music education is how students pick up these skills through the process of learning to play an instrument.
Through music instruction, children learn discipline, patience, problem-solving skills, confidence and responsibility. These character traits are developed through repetition, as students must slow down and focus. In a world where kids are bombarded by fast-paced and often dubious media messages touting instant gratification, they learn the value of applying themselves to a task.
Learning to play a passage of music requires the learner to break things down into manageable pieces. This skill is necessary for learning anything in life. Students learn the satisfaction that comes from working through the difficult passages and mastering them.
Learning music also requires a student to identify the difficult parts and determine what is causing the problem. The student then has to figure out how to solve the problem through specific practice techniques, usually with the help of a teacher or instruction book.
When any of my students has a note that they consistently play wrong, I teach them to play the measure before and to stop right on the troublesome note. By doing that several times, the brain starts to remember the correct note.
Sometimes in music classes we change the rhythm to help students master a difficult part. Once the students have mastered the section and go back and play it as written, it often seems easy. Slowing down is also an important technique for solving whatever problem confronts them.
Another key we keep coming back to in our lessons is repetition. Kids have a tendency to want to move on to the next part if they have played a section correctly once, even if they played it wrong multiple times beforehand. Instead, we teach them to practice until they get it right and then to keep practicing it correctly over and over again. It is just like learning math in school. The student has to successfully complete the same kind of problem multiple times for it to stick.
Learning music is also a lot like learning a language. When a child learns a language they may have to hear a word a thousand times before they start saying it. Kids sometimes don’t understand how many times it takes to truly master something. As adults we often forget this.
Learning music teaches children the importance of precision and accuracy as well as patience and self-discipline. They learn to pay close attention to exactly how a particular skill looks, sounds and feels.
As they master these details, music students learn the skills that will help them be successful in school, work and life. The poise, confidence and problem-solving abilities they gain are some of the greatest advantages of learning a musical instrument.
About the Author: Laura Yeh is a performer and music educator trained in the Suzuki method of instruction who teaches violin and ocarina at the St. Louis School of Music to children as young as 3 and adults. Laura and her husband Dennis have collaborated with ocarina makers around the world to produce new models of the ocarina, an easy-to-learn wind instrument with ancient roots. They have designed and produced many unique and innovative ocarinas sold by STL Ocarina (http://www.stlocarina.com).