Many of us remember of plunking away at the piano as a child. Some may also remember our parents’ daily reminders to practice or experiencing stage fright before a recital. Music lessons have become part of growing up right along with chores, homework and acne.
But talk to local piano instructors Marlene Rayl or Alsbrooks Smith, Jr. and it becomes clear that those hours spent in lessons and practice can shape an individual’s future in many positive ways. Rayl and Smith, Jr. have taught piano privately to students of all ages in the Findlay area for decades, and Smith, Jr. taught at the university level at The University of Findlay, Bluffton University and Bowling Green State University. Both acknowledge that parents often start their children in music lessons to develop discipline and an appreciation for music. But the benefits extend far wider, Rayl and Smith noted, to include social opportunities along with emotional and academic benefits.
Social benefits from music lessons
Many people may imagine learning music as a solitary activity but Rayl and Smith Jr. both mentioned various social benefits and opportunities associated with piano lessons. Rayl noted that piano lessons offer one-on-one, individualized instruction that most children don’t receive in other activities. This personal attention leads to meaningful intergenerational relationships that some students may not otherwise develop. And, through their membership in the Ohio Music Teachers Association (OMTA), students of Rayl and Smith, Jr.— along with students of the fourteen other Findlay-area OMTA members – may attend events throughout the year that offer youth an opportunity to perform and build friendships with other piano students in the area.
One of the oldest and largest events offered by the Findlay OMTA is the annual Ribbon Festival. Smith, Jr. noted that this event is particularly valuable to students because rather than focusing on competing and a personal ranking, evaluators offer positive feedback to students on each performance along with practical suggestions to improve technique. Students who attend are also recognized for their number of years of piano study. The positive, supportive atmosphere encourages students to continue studying music and gives them an opportunity to develop friends with similar interests. Another OMTA event premiered in November 2016, the Honors Recital, featuring performances from sixteen students at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Beyond these larger events, students of OMTA teachers are invited to participate in seminars, perform at local recitals and at events throughout the community at places like Coffee Amici and assisted-living facilities like Birchaven. Many students also serve as accompanists in churches, at civic and cultural events and in schools. This is particularly beneficial for children who are shy or less athletic, as they become part of a team through their music, learning how to work with others and navigate the different roles in a group.
Lessons and practice
In order to perform confidently at these events, students spend hours in lessons and practicing at home. Parents are a key component to a student’s success, Rayl noted, but devoting time to study music teaches students skills that are highly beneficial to academic and career success, too. “Research supports that learning an instrument can positively impact math and reading skills,” says Emily Boerger, a Findlay mother of two young piano students who also teaches fifth-grade at Cory Rawson. For example, learning to read and understand music teaches basic math such as division and fractions. Even more importantly, Smith, Jr. emphasized that music lessons teach “discipline, steady habits and [help students in] determining what’s important.” And both Rayl and Smith, Jr., state that many individuals realize the importance of studying music by continuing or even returning to lesson as adults.
As parents, it’s important to consider all the benefits of an activity before committing your family’s time and money. “It’s a skill that they could use the rest of their lives,” Emily Boerger says of her children’s piano playing. “It’s beautiful music and everyone in our family can share in the enjoyment when they play.” And that benefit is priceless.