By Michelle Talsma Everson
Music lessons – whether they are instruments or voice – are nearly a childhood rite of passage.
“Thousands of scientific and academic studies have shown that music education improves academic achievement, builds communication skills, fosters creativity, develops teamwork and increases engagement in school,” says Oleg Shvets, executive director of the Phoenix Boys Choir.
Benefits of Music for Kids
“Music can shape the lives of youth by readying students for learning by helping to develop their basic mental skills and capacities including fostering superior working memory and cultivates better thinking skills,” Shvets explains.
He notes that music education helps with not only academics but provides a framework for much-needed life skills such as perseverance, self esteem, originality, flexibility and more.
“Music is one of the things that continues for a lifetime and increases overall health, mental and emotional wellbeing, and is definitely an important part of every child’s development,” adds Heidi Grimes, owner and director of the East Valley Yamaha Music School.
Shvets, who works with boys ages 7 to 14 in the Phoenix Boys Choir, believes that the choir and similar programs provide children with leadership and development skills and opportunities.
“Getting up and singling in front of thousands of people greatly boosts your confidence and gives you the opportunity to develop what in the education field is known as ‘soft skills,’” he explains. “If you ask most employers, those ‘soft skills’ is what separates those people who actually get job offers from those who just get interviewed… We [the Phoenix Boys Choir] help our boys learn how to communicate and interact with adults. Those skills alone will help them thrive when they are adults.”
Music at Any Age
Experts recommend that children be exposed to music as early as possible but note that exposure to music benefits kids of all ages.
“Music education has the proven ability to increase pre-language, language, developmental, and cognitive skills in children of all ages,” says Katherine Palmer, a museum educator at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), located in Scottsdale. “Through musical play, young children can develop syntax, fine and gross motor skills, and socio-emotional well-being.”
So how can you expose young children to music? Palmer notes that many organizations across the Valley offer music classes and workshops for young children and their caregivers. One example is MIM’s Mini Music Makers for kids ages 0 through 5, which offers music and movement activities for kids with a world music focus. The museum also offers programs for older children and teens, too.
Grimes recommends that children start music lessons as young as age 3.
“For parents who want to create a beautiful and full life for their children, music study that begins with basic musicianship based on keyboard and voice is ideal,” Grimes says. “Preschoolers who participated in music lessons including keyboards showed a 45 percent increase in spatial reasoning over the course of one year as opposed to music lessons with singing only and computer classes.”
Because of her own experiences and expertise, Grimes highly recommends utilizing the Yamaha curriculum for both singing and keyboard studies.
A Family Affair
In addition to attending music classes with younger children and enrolling older kids in music programs like choir or instrumental lessons, experts note that one of the best ways to explore music is to do it as a family.
“Attending concerts and seeing musicians in person is a great way to motivate children to become involved in music,” Grimes says. “The family concerts given by the Phoenix Symphony are excellent. Conducting a sing along in the car while driving, visiting the MIM in Scottsdale, attending student performances, and coming to a free introduction class at Yamaha are all great ways to give your child a fun and engaging invitation to become involved in music.”
Palmer recommends that parents engrain music into their everyday activities.
“Make music a part of your daily routine,” she says. “Songs and movement can help ease difficult transitions throughout the day, foster imaginative play, and teach self-regulation. When music is ever-present, kids gravitate to it for self expression, which enhances later academic skills.”
Michelle Talsma Everson is a freelance writer, editor and public relations consultant. She’s proud to say that her 7-year-old son can play some pretty impressive pieces on the recorder.