By JULIA HEALY
What can parents do to raise superstar children – or even reasonably successful ones? Should they make their own organic baby food? Pay for fancy private schools? Send them to Kiddie Coding Camp or submit to a punishing travel hockey schedule?
A growing body of scientific research suggests that signing them up for music lessons is the secret sauce in raising capable kids. Children who learn to play instruments gain not only an appreciation for music, they also show advanced problem-solving skills in both academic and social settings. They are better at encoding and retrieving memories, and their executive function is more highly developed. Better executive function means more attentional control, organization, planning, and behavioral self-control. Playing music also helps children process emotions better, diminishes anxiety, and improves self-confidence.
Science shows playing an instrument
is like Burpees for the brain
In recent decades, scientists have harnessed technologies like Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study human brains in the act of making music. They’ve found that playing an instrument is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout because it engages practically every area of the brain at once.
For example, looking at a piece of music to interpret the written symbols engages the brain’s visual cortex; moving one’s fingers across a keyboard and pressing a foot pedal engages the motor cortex, and hearing the music engages the auditory cortex. The brain instantly processes and synthesizes all those sensory inputs in order to produce music.
This massive explosion of simultaneous neural activity builds the size and number of neural networks in both brain hemispheres. It builds the bridge between the two halves, allowing messages to travel across the brain faster and through a wider variety of neural pathways. Producing music combines the linguistic and mathematical precision of the left hemisphere with the novel and creative content of the right hemisphere.
How and when to start music
education for children
For optimal brain benefits, the sooner children start learning to play music, the better—depending, of course, on their maturity and their chosen instruments. Most experts agree the optimal age is somewhere between five and 10 years old, with age six or seven the ideal time to start the piano. Hands are too small before then to fit the keyboard. Children as young as three or four can learn to play pint-sized violins using the Suzuki instructional method.
Even before they start formal music training, toddlers and preschoolers can develop a love of music with their caregivers in music-and-movement classes. Later, kindergartners and older children can find private music lessons in a variety of settings throughout the city and suburbs.
Music and movement
for very young children
Music and movement classes introduce toddlers and preschoolers to music in interactive, dynamic, and social settings. Typically, classes are conducted in groups, require participation by a parent or caregiver, and use a combination of high-quality recordings, cross-cultural songs, age-appropriate instruments, and a variety of interactive instructional techniques.
Kindermusik. The gold standard of music and movement for early childhood (ages infant to seven), Kindermusik has locations in and around Shaker Heights, Hudson and North Royalton. Founded in the United States in 1978, it is based on an earlier program from Germany which drew on the work of musicians and educators such as Shinichi Suzuki and Maria Montessori.https://www.kindermusik.com
Music Together/Sing and Swing NEO. With locations in Beachwood, Lakewood and Westlake, Music Together has been known since 1987 for its high-quality recordings, age-appropriate instruments, and high-energy music classes for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and bigger kids. Classes are seven days a week, morning noon and night, and can be delivered remotely to school, homeschool or learning pod.https://www.singandswingneo.org
Cleveland Institute of Music: Eurythmics, Private Instruction, Ensembles. Group Eurythmics classes introduce children ages three and older—with their caregivers—to basic elements of music through movement and sound. Private Suzuki music instruction is available to children ages three and older, and a variety of choirs and chamber ensembles are open to young musicians beginning in kindergarten.https://www.cim.edu
Where to find private music
lessons for older children
If your child is ready to play an instrument, Cleveland boasts a wealth of opportunities for music instruction. Here are some of the best-known:
■ Fairmount Center for the Arts. For nearly 50 years, this arts organization on Fairmount Road in Novelty has offered music instruction as well as dance, theater, and the visual arts to people of all ages. Private one-on-one lessons in piano, viola, guitar, ukulele, saxophone or voice are available for ages five and up (depending on the instrument), beginners through advanced players. https://www.fairmountcenter.org
■ Fine Arts Association. Now serving about 5,000 students each year, this Willoughby arts organization opened in 1957 when Jim and Louise Savage began offering music classes from every room of their home—even the kitchen and bathroom. Today, the FAA is on the Mentor Avenue grounds of the Andrews Osborne Academy. Private lessons are available for violin, guitar, piano, voice, flute and more.https://www.fineartsassociation.org
■ Solon Center for the Arts. Located in Solon’s refurbished Old City Hall, built in 1899, Solon Center for the Arts has been a center for music and the arts since 2002. Today it’s the home of the Solon Symphony, and the source of private music lessons for students of all ages and skill levels. 30-, 45-, and 60-minute lessons are available for piano, voice, woodwinds, percussion, guitar and stringed instruments. https://www.solonohio.org/257/Solon-Center-for-the-Arts
■ Cleveland Institute of Music. One of seven independent music conservatories in the U.S., the CIM is one of only three that are dedicated exclusively to classical music performance. This top-level institution prepares students for professional careers in music. Private lessons are available in the University Circle headquarters and also at the Unitarian Church on Shaker Blvd.https://www.cim.edu/prep/locations
■ The Music Settlement. With a main campus in University Circle and a satellite location in Ohio City, the Music Settlement offers private lessons, small-group lessons, summer camps, orchestra opportunities and more, all in an age-based searchable course catalog. Their Suzuki program (an instructional method for very young children) is the largest in Northeast Ohio. The Settlement is also unique for offering instruction in jazz musicianship, theory and history. https://www.themusicsettlement.org/music/overview
■ Piano Cleveland. Long known as the home of the prestigious, biennial Cleveland International Piano Competition, Piano Cleveland has recently broadened its mission to bring the transformative power of piano music to people of all ages, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. Piano Cleveland has built partnerships with other organizations like The Music Settlement, Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, and Cleveland Metropolitan School District to deliver free piano lessons, pianos and keyboards to students in need. https://www.pianocleveland.org/home/
Playing a Musical Instrument Builds a Child’s Brain
By JULIA HEALY