Play your way to smartness

Young boys practising their guitar skills at Rwanda Rocks music school./ Courtesy

You have seen young children play the piano or flute or other instruments.  Your reaction could have been that of wonder, indifference or, longing for such a golden opportunity. You probably enjoyed the music but did you also know that their ability to think and use their brains was improving?

Research has proven that children, and eventually adults, who play musical instruments, think better than their counterparts.  More interesting still, different capabilities develop depending on the type of instrument. For instance, if I play a ukulele or violin, the parts of my brain that develop differ from those of my friend who plays the piano or drums, tambourine or a percussion instrument. Clearly, to balance the development of mental abilities, one needs to learn to play a wide range of instruments.

What actually happens? You may ask. Well, experts affirm that children who have musical training have brains which have a bigger response to sounds — which is practically very many things that are in the environment. 

Apart from the numerous mental benefits that come with musical training, there are other vital perks, such as emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills.

Ask any accomplished piano or guitar player how long it took them to learn how to play the instrument and they will tell you endless hours of dong the same thing in order to play it just right, which is not the easiest activity on earth. It develops unlimited stores of patience, perseverance and a long attention span, attributes that one requires to do well academically.

On the emotional level, playing something and not getting it right over and over is truly frustrating. So when you finally hit the right note, the sense of accomplishment and wellbeing cannot be underestimated. So a child learns earlier on and repeatedly that there will be times of failing but that the world does not end there. An appreciation for their success and that of others is much deeper knowing the effort that goes into the practice.

On the social skills front, agreeing on a common time that is suitable for everyone and then turning up at the agreed time is a major manoeuvre for a band or orchestra or choir. After that, accepting to play the notes in a certain way to produce what is called music takes a lot of ‘give and take’ from the members.