Music lessons and kids: power from lesson one

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10 2013 6:55 p.m. MST

"Skill in appreciating the subtle qualities of sound, even against a complicated and noisy background, turns out to be important not just for a child learning to understand speech and written language, but also for an elderly person struggling with hearing loss," Perri Klass said in a New York Times article about the study.

And as more understanding is gained on the effects of musical education, it may prove to be more beneficial for many different people to be involved, no matter the time of life they are in.

'Music is absolutely necessary'

When Robin Keehn took on three adopted siblings for piano lessons at her studio in Sequim, Wash. — all with fetal alcohol syndrome — she didn't know what the outcomes would be. Though there were numerous challenges along the way, the gifted now-musicians are different people after seven years of learning with Simply Music training, Keehn says.

"You wouldn't know anything was up with them, that they are disabled or developmentally delayed," Keehn said. "Their mom has said to me, on a few occasions now, with tears in her eyes, 'I don't know who they would have been had they not been doing this. I believe it's ordered and organized their brains.'"

Keehn, who has taught early childhood music and movement and piano, for 17 years, concurs.

"Music just gets in where other things just can't," she said. "... They always succeed at everything they are able to do."

Annette Longhurst, a longtime piano teacher and music therapist in Logan, Utah, feels similarly.

"Music is absolutely necessary for anyone to reach their full potential," she said.

"It captivates and maintains attention; for young children and (disabled) children, that's very important. It stimulates and uses many parts of the brain, it's reflective of a person's abilities, provides a context for them to express themselves, helps them memorize. Through music everyone can find a great way to succeed,” Longhurst said.

Due largely to her work with musical therapy, Longhurst has found that one of the most fundamental needs of individuals is to be able to self-express, and that music is one of the best ways to do that. Much of her work has been with disabled and elderly individuals, and she says the changes in them are just as evident — if not more so — than in those without disabilities.

"I have seen elderly individuals be hopeless and depressed, but incorporating them in groups of music-making can help them find meaning in life. Music is the key to help them become a person again," Longhurst said. "When you can belong to a group and feel like you have something to contribute to and are valued in a group — I have seen that change lives."

The social aspect of music can be the saving component of musical education, whether with group lessons or just being able to share and make music with others.

"There's so much you get from being in music lessons," Keehn said. "We have a lot of camaraderie. They are in a group and stay with the same group and love making music together. That's a gift — to get together and make music."

A house needs a foundation

Kathy Damkohler has worked as an educator for years, and has now served as the executive director of Education Through Music in New York City since 1995. There are currently 28 schools with music education been implemented into the curriculum, with help from ETM. Fifty-five percent of schools in the city still have no music instruction, Damkohler said.

"What happens in music class, it builds self-esteem and self-confidence," she said. "It's easier to go into math or reading class and feel you can do anything. In these inner-city schools with children with so much baggage, that may be the only time they feel special. ... Music has been life-changing."

Through research of many of the childrens' musical habits outside of school, long-lasting changes have already been observed for many of the students, according to Damkohler.

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