Life skills that Music teaches our Children

1. The art of being present

Timothy Gallway, in ‘The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance” describes the need to be present. “Since the mind seems to have a will of its own, how can one learn to keep it in the present? By Practice.”

The ‘inner game’ describes how in a culture of achievement-oriented activities, people tend to get in their own way. The approach to reduce interference (the capacity to get in your own way) at the same time as your potential (innate ability) is being trained (through practice).

Music is in itself a form of meditation. Especially while learning a piece, a musician cannot afford not to be fully engaged in the music. To the point where ones eye is literally on the note ahead of the fingers and once the correct note is played, the thoughts and attention are merely on the next note in succession. There is no time to consider a previous mistake or worry about the notes that are still coming. Focus is specific and intense. Just like in tennis, it is merely one note at a time, (one shot at a time) with no room for thoughts of anything outside of the moment at hand.

Effective practice is not about how many hours are spent at an instrument. A good friend and musician, Sam Grimley, described practise: “If your practice sounds good, you’re doing it wrong.” Being present at your instrument means being fully immersed in the music, taking it apart, learning hands separately and repeating phrases over and over, with the correct fingering, in multiple different styles to perfect each note. Slowing things down, then gradually building up speed. These are life skills.

2. The art of being committed

“An amateur practices something until he gets it right. A professional practices until he can’t get it wrong!” – unknown from Mastery, by Barry Green.

The 10 000 hour rule in Outliers is described by Malcolm Gladwell in “ask me anything on Reddit” as “natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.” His message that people aren’t born geniuses, they get there through effort, was captured in the hit song by Macklemore: “the greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they paint a lot.”

Music requires commitment. Of time, of energy, of physical and emotional input over extended, regular periods of time. Commitment to self. Commitment to putting in the hours.

3. The art of teamwork

Musicians have the unique opportunity to come together with other musicians and create. Sometimes, in instances where there is no previous connection, sometimes with musicians who may not even speak the same language or have the same backgrounds. And yet, when following the conductor, when reading the score and when playing their part, they will come together and make music. Music allows your child to be on the team, with no time on the bench waiting on the sideline for their turn. Music is inclusive.

“Most communication happens nonverbally, between conductor and musicians and between musicians. A mistake is excused with an apologetic smile. A nod signals approval and appreciation. Breathing together creates the same energy, pace and trust.”

In an article by Marcella Bremer on “Managers and Musicians: Leading by being present” a group of managers had the opportunity of sitting next to musicians during a 3 day rehearsal for an upcoming performance. Their role was to observe.

The outcome of the exercise, which required no speeches or explanations, was just to observe the experience of the interaction of professional musicians rehearsing.

A musician has the unique opportunity to learn the art of teamwork. To watch. To listen. To play only when required. To listen to verbal and non-verbal cues, to be utterly proficient in their own music to be able to add value to a larger work. To learn to hold a space for others. To hold the silences and the sounds.

4. The art of how to fail and learn through that failure

Our children are currently being schooled in systems, which focus heavily on success. Children are rewarded for ‘being present at school’, for ‘participation.’ Later in life, our children will learn that they will not be rewarded for merely arriving at their jobs, in fact they will only be rewarded for outstanding achievements.

Music is a skill that takes time to perfect and while it will always be subjective, the basic skills of reading and playing the correct notes are specific and not easily achieved. To excel at music, many hours of hard work are required. To achieve muscle memory, to learn the art of sight- reading, the ability to count and play in time – these are all skills which will improve after many mistakes and playing ‘incorrectly’. It is through these mistakes that a musician will learn how to play correctly.

A musician may practice for many hours alone, to play only for minutes for an audience. In those few minutes, there will be a multitude of factors dictating whether or not that performance is deemed a success. Is the performer tired, does the performer truly know all the notes, is the performer nervous, will the performer get distracted, will the performer connect emotionally with the music? If any one of these things goes wrong, the performance will fail. It is in these moments that a musician learns to go back to their instrument and practice harder for next time, focusing on whatever area needs more work. There is always more work. A musician learns through failure.

It was never just about the music. Let them start their musical journey!

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Toni Crichton
Toni is passionate about sharing her love of music. She values the role of music in education and the role music plays in the development of each individual. When Toni is not teaching at her home studio in Cape Town, she also consults for the movie industry and is a regular performer at some of the top hotels and venues in Cape Town.
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