Are music lessons worth the effort?

If there’s a reason I’m crazy, it’s not because of sharing too much on my blog, or taking my kids out of school. It’s not even for jeopardizing my finances way too often with way too many startups. The reason I’m crazy, if I’m crazy, is that I spend the majority of my waking hours dealing with music lessons.

I do the math all the time and it blows my mind:

  • 14 hours a week of cello
  • 14 hours a week of piano
  • 7 hours a week of violin
  • 20 hours a week of driving to lessons

I am not even adding up all the time I spend scheduling and rescheduling. The endless recitals and practices for recitals. Competitions. Week-long summer camps that don’t feel like camp at all. And how do I factor in the hours I work to pay for the grand piano? And the tens of thousands of dollars I’ll have put into string instruments before the kids go to college.

I’m not even sure what we are getting from all this? Perfect pitch? Carpel tunnel? The self-assurance that we know when to clap during one of Beethoven’s symphonies?

In between all the practicing an driving and worrying, I read about composers. I never used to be this type of person. A music person. I think that’s why I wanted my kids to play instruments—because I wish I had. And because I knew nothing about music.

Now I read biographies of composers like I used to read People magazine.

Did you know Erik Satie ate only white food? And Handel played piano hiding in his attic because his father wanted him to be a lawyer?

During the Renaissance, playing musical instruments was seen as a sort of blue-collar job. In Venice, where Vivaldi wrote music, the girls in the orphanage played the music. Each girl in the orphanage played an instrument and in church, the girls would play Vivaldi’s weekly composition for the congregation, but the girls were behind a curtain because so many of the girls were deformed and people didn’t want to look at them.

I could go on. I know a lot. But then I think, really? What do I know? I will do my 10,000 hours as my prerequisite for expertise. But what will my expertise look like?

After sitting through years of lessons I can play only a few child-like songs on the violin. I can’t read music. And while I go to almost every lesson and every practice, I can’t say that I’m an expert in teaching a kid to play an instrument. I’m really only an expert in arguing with my kids about practicing.

Which takes so much time that I should actually add that to the total above.

I worry that I’m squandering time on extreme parenting. I worry that it’s ridiculous for the kids to spend so much time on their music. So I was relieved when I saw a study featured in the Washington Post that concludes that studying music helps with children’s emotional and behavioral growth. The researchers found that the more a child studied an instrument, the more their brain developed to promote anxiety management and emotional control.

I read more about the research and the part that really excites me is that as a result of his findings about music, researcher James Hudziak started viola lessons. After a year of lessons he can’t play a single song, but his brain is already starting to show positive changes.

What if we do all these lessons, all this practicing, and the kids never pick up their instrument after age 18? That’s the test, really. Was there intrinsic goodness reorganizing our lives around the kids’ music?

I’m not sure. I want to tell you that it’s enough for me to know that each of us has grown artistically and creatively and even emotionally because of our involvement in music. I want to believe that I won’t feel frustrated if the kids decide to quit.

There is value in quitting, after all. It’s the only path to zeroing in on what you want to do in your life. But I think that’s why I’ve started reading on my own and listening on my own. If there is going to be intrinsic value in what I’m doing with the kids, then I have to be doing something for me, as well. I have to be learning and growing right alongside the kids.

And that’s not just true for music but for all the time and energy a parent devotes to homeschooling. The kids aren’t the only ones who need intellectual and emotional fulfillment on the path to quitting or not quitting.

48 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    You’ve invested a ton of yourself into this — your expertise appears to be in being a music mom. And therefore of course you’ll feel enormous frustration if your kids decide to quit. Do you think your sons feel their own investment in the music? If so, do you think that investment might cloud their ability to truly know whether they like playing or not?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think about that a lot.

      Do you know that Taylor Swift’s parents moved to another state for her music career before she even had a career? And their marriage fell apart.

      Most families that have a musical prodigy and one parent relocates with that prodigy the marriage falls apart. I see it all the time.

      So I think, maybe that’s part of the territory. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why so many musicians commit suicide.

      At any rate, my son is very aware of how much we do for his music. I don’t know what that means.


      • CeeBee
        CeeBee says:

        To quote your post: “So I was relieved when I saw a study featured in the Washington Post that concludes that studying music helps with children’s emotional and behavioral growth. The researchers found that the more a child studied an instrument, the more their brain developed to promote anxiety management and emotional control.”

        And then to quote your comment: “So I think, maybe that’s part of the territory. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why so many musicians commit suicide. ”

        I am a trained musician, but I did not go the professional route, because in the end I realized that most musicians are really effing crazy. I do not deny one bit that music lessons can help with brain connections and fine motor skills and probably with emotional maturity to an extent. But I feel like people who take music really seriously, when they start private lessons, competitions, etc., that this whole elevated emotional state collapses in on itself.

  2. sunship
    sunship says:

    If nothing else, I do believe that the level of practice that you’re describing is enough to completely restructure one’s ability to understand and appreciate music in a way that’s hard to understand (or even recognize) for people who haven’t spent so much time developing their aural ability. Listening to music deeply – deep to the point where it almost becomes a qualitatively different thing – is a major joy in my life that I wouldn’t have now if I didn’t spend several years of my life working at it for 4+ hours per day.

    Also, the realization of how much I’ve gained from studying music (at an intense level) has given me the confidence to take on (intensively) other pursuits that seem “potentially fruitless”. (Although that’s an argument that I had to think through and not just a spontaneous feeling/awareness – so I don’t know how reliably one can count on that particular route to self-esteem.)

  3. Alana
    Alana says:

    Those music lessons could pay for college (if you’re okay with UW-Madison or UW-Milwaukee). After a student’s junior year of high school, if he/she attends the UW-Madison Summer Music Clinic, he/she may audition for an eight semester, full-tuition scholarship to one of those two universities. You must be a Wisconsin resident. There are 10 of these offered a year. The only requirement is that the winner plays in band or orchestra each of those 8 semesters.

    I majored in music with the scholarship, but I know plenty of people who used it for non-music degrees. Something your kids could consider for the future.

  4. Starr
    Starr says:

    I was kind of a half-asser when it came to piano practice, but I studied until I was 18 and then worked professionally off and on as an accompanist. These days, it’s only for fun for me while my eldest has started violin. The other two will begin in the next couple of years with one instrument or another.

    It was totally normal for everyone I knew growing up to study an instrument. Not these days. Until recently, I was the only person I knew with a piano in the house. A couple of friends have added them in the past year, but they’re just for show, apparently.

  5. Cay
    Cay says:

    I took piano lessons for eleven years. I probably should have stopped at six years.

    I think that when 1) the person’s progress stops, 2) there isn’t a real goal, and 3) the person isn’t really enjoying it, it’s reasonable to stop.

  6. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    How many lessons does a music prodigy need? What can he learn from all of this? At this point he just needs to practice and play and do the occasional lessons when he needs or wants to learn a new skill.

    Professional actors don’t continue going to acting class, someone who has learned and mastered Java or c++ doesn’t take those same classes over and over.

    People who have mastered something just do it, practice, play, perform, code, act, paint. They don’t need lessons anymore.

    Maybe it’s time to asses his levels, and cut back lessons until he won’t need lessons except just occasionally when he needs help with a piece of music.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      He only takes a few hours of lessons a week. The rest is practice. And from what I’m told, his level of practice is nothing — kids in high school and college do 6-8 hours a day.


      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        50 hours a week is a full time job for most people too! That certainly takes dedication and grit. I’m thinking that the majority of these suicides were committed by people who did not have parents with an unschooling philosophy either.

      • CeeBee
        CeeBee says:

        I think this is all too much for children your kids’ age. And where did this “kids in high school and college practice 6-8 hours”? I call bull on that right there. Maybe if you are including rehearsals I could buy it on the undergraduate level. My Bachelor’s is in music performance, a lot of my friends have masters and doctoral degrees in music, I know people who sing at the Met, who win grammys, and none of these people were practicing that much in high school, let alone elementary/middle school age.

        And how exactly does this follow your unschooling/learn the way you want ideology? This is such a huge violation of that philosophy if you have to argue over practice time.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          This is so interesting to me. So many commenters here have such interesting stories to tell.

          I have friends who are in the music business as well, but they are vocal performers and I can’t imagine them practicing that long.

          I honestly am clueless about classical instrument practice needs. But I am familiar with prodigy. My brother was a genius tech prodigy in his early teens and was regularly contacted by people all over the US to do programming for them and they would pay him in free websites, games, money or computer parts, this was early 90’s. He was self-taught, taught himself several programming languages and nobody could teach him anything… maybe a short cut here and there, but HE was the expert. That is my definition of prodigy. He would spend hours, days, weeks on a project.

          I don’t know how that translates to classical music performance. But I feel like you are probably an expert in what you are talking about.

          What is an ideal amount of practice time to become an expert level cello player and regularly audition for performances?

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            This is so surprising to me.

            My brother worked for the dod in his younger years as well. He got off felony hacking charges when he agreed to advise them on security issues at 15.

            He was reading visual Basic at 7 and no one guided his interests. My parents just bought the books and a computer.

            My cousins are classical musicians, and did not practice this much. Then again they did not have parents that pushed for more as far as I’m aware. The parents just wanted them to learn an instrument, which they did along with other activities.

            We had a grand piano in our house. No one played it. My mom knew one song.

            When I was 7 I picked up Whitney Houston (r.i.p) sheet music and sat and taught myself how to read it and play it.
            Then took music for years in different forms, then pursued it in college until I decided to switch to Econ.

            All the lessons, hours of performance training, performances were self driven. My parents had almost nothing to do with it. They never told me to practice or lamented about my progress (because frankly they could have cared less) but to this day I dabble in music as a love.
            I’m not sure what would be different if I had influential parents in that regard.

        • a
          a says:

          I practiced 4-6 hours a day for 7 years starting when I was 11. Completely my choice. The only one driving that ship by then was moi. And that doesn’t count hours playing with hours. And I loved it!

        • pls
          pls says:

          I call bull on that one too. My daughter is a pretty serious 15-year old violinist with realistic aspirations for the conservatory track. We’re in the process of interviewing new teachers. The one we’ve gone farthest with is saying she’ll need to practice 2.5 hrs a day, six days a week. My daughter knows kids in her orchestra who practice more hours than she does, but they seem to be “punching the ticket” and not practicing very efficiently. Chasing hours of practice is a bit of a fetish.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            But at this point, for your daughter, this teacher is more like a mentor and coach, not a teacher giving lessons, correct?

  7. Katarina
    Katarina says:

    Music isn’t something you do. Music is something you are. Even someone without much cultivation can still be a true musician at heart. Music is a language and the drive to communicate through music is something hard to recognize or define, even in oneself. Kids can have talent but not drive. They can have drive but less talent. Few people will go on to have successful music careers. Performing arts careers rarely involve glory. There must be a deep love that is impossible to explain.

    Many, many of the best high school performers push themselves to excel simply to get into universities of choice. They usually stop playing at that point. The music lovers keep going, try to find opportunities to make a living as a musician. Some succeed, some don’t.

    It isn’t essential to end your musical life because you don’t see a career at the end. Investing in music training is always a good idea, as long as the student is not completely coerced. If you must coerce your students, then you are going against your own creed about unschooling.

    As a music teacher, as a parent of a talented musician who does not want to play an instrument, I know the pain of watching a talented child quit (I was not his teacher and she is world class). I cried for a long time. People tried to console me by saying, “Oh, he’ll pick up something later, when he is more mature.” I doubt it. I had to realize that my love for music and the fact that he had talent was my excuse to push him. Once we stopped lessons, enormous stress left our house.

    There is a wonderful documentary you must see called, “They Came to Play” and it is about people who are over 35 who used to be prodigies or at least outstanding pianists until they chose different career paths. They are all successful in their careers and kept up with the piano. The competition is a Van Cliburn competition for non-professionals. You will enjoy it tremendously.

    Daniil Trifonov, arguably the best up-and coming pianist of our time, said in an interview while in Israel (after winning a competition there) that you never stop needing a coach. I agree. His artistry is probably better than any coach he can find, but yet that extra pair of ears can truly help…and encourage. After all, playing music well is very, very hard. We all need encouragement.

    So the answer to your question is entirely up to you and your children. Is it worth it to you?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I love your opening. You are right. It’s become my life. I remember when I was playing professional beach volleyball and if I skipped a day on the sand I felt weird. That’s how I feel about skipping a day of practice.

      I’m going to watch that documentary. Thanks.


    • Moka
      Moka says:

      Very interesting subject and thank you for posting it. I am also striving with my children to make them practice. It is not that they take the instrument on their own, no not at all. They play the cello and the violin, but if the want to play music for fun both take the piano!!! And I am also wondering how it will be when they will quit, in particular the little one who is quite talented. And yet, now I like their joy in the moments when they find some pieces that are particularly nice and when we play together. That is really great fun. Also, what I like is the possibility to connect with them, to share a passion. The rest will come. Hoping they continue. I am sure it will bring them something, sooner or later, even if they do not continue.

  8. jessica
    jessica says:

    This has been on my mind lately.

    When is it about what the kids actually need, versus what we are telling ourselves they need for a future we’re not so sure of.

    I’ve been reading a lot of biographies on people on various industries.

    The common thread has been parents that facilitated interest but left it up to the kids, and didn’t take credit for their kids desire/passion/ hours worked etc. (Codependency). I mean, my kiddo is accidently becoming great at figure skating. How far do I push, if at all,or do I just keep paying for group lessons with his friends and privates for his skill development?

    I can see how my underlying desire for the Olympics could destroy his environment for that to occur. So I should probably pay attention to that.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Hi jessica,

      I have been there. My middle daughter is an actor and for now we are just doing classes. She was doing auditions, fully her own decision, and then said she wanted to stop for awhile. Her acting teacher loves her and is putting her on a path for success while working on her “directability”. When the time is right we have all the connections/networking ready to go.

      I’m sure this can work the same way with ice skating. If he is really awesome, people will come to you and say something and will put your son on the right path for success.

      Take care. :)

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        “If he is really awesome, people will come to you and say something and will put your son on the right path for success.”

        This is really great.

        We only started private because he loves it and the group instructor kept talking about his ability. Also, other parents with experience kept asking who is coach was when he didn’t have one.

  9. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I took piano lessons for 8 years during my youth. Then quit in high school when I could see my practicing annoyed my family to no end. I was never good, just moderate I guess.

    But now in my 40’s I started taking lessons again with my neice and now, I am so glad I had those 8 years when I was young. When I was young I worried that I was wasting my time because I was not good, and the sole reason to play was to ‘get good’ and be better than other people.

    Now I play for the relaxation and just pure enjoyment it gives to me. But if I had quit earlier when I was young I might not have this outlet now, and I am so grateful for it.

    With my little neice the practice schedule seems so fragile. Her family has told me ‘they hate it when she practices’. (and she is not putting in hours, maybe 20 minutes every other day). But she likes it, so I tell her she can keep taking as long as she likes it. But I see what she wants is achievement, she wants to advance to the next book, move on to the next song, with as little practice as she can get away with.

    I think it is partly school (and partly parents) that turns you into a robot that just want to achieve, achieve, achieve and ‘beat’ other people in an endless competition. But for something like music, just learning to enjoy something just as is seems like a wonderful idea to me.

  10. Emily
    Emily says:

    Your piano is beautiful! A Steinway baby grand is my dream.

    I was one of those who attended college on a full-tuition music scholarship and then went to law school. I used my skill to get a degree at a very low cost while continuing to improve my skill, and I still enjoy playing piano even though it is not an occupation for me.

    The time commitment and price tag are definitely investments, and it is often hard to know how investments of any type are going to work out in the end.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      I believe that is divided between two kids. But still quite a lot, and quite other-worldly now that I think about it.

      I miss Gretchen. Gretchen should do a guest post.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Why? I prefer guest posts from people with original thoughts. Mainstream parenting and schooling bores me.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hm. I’m reading your comment and I’m thinking, yeah, that does seem like a lot.

      I did the math wrong. This is one of those times when I think it’s a conundrum. I could just go change the post. But maybe it’s too big a thing to change.

      I accidentally doubled the time. So it should be 14 and 14 instead of 28 and 28. Or something like that. I have dyscalculia, which means I can’t do basic math.

      Usually I ask one of the kids to do the math if I can’t do it. Or my husband. But it’s 3am, and no one is awake. and I just want to fix this problem and go to bed….

      So. I think I’ll just go into WordPress and fix the math like it was never wrong in the first place.

      Now you have a little insight into what it’s like to have dyscalculia. It’s actually very difficult for me to do this problem: we do 40 minutes a day three times of a day of piano and the same thing for cello. So how many hours a week of each instrument?

      I could spend the next hour trying to do this problem and I’d still probably get the answer wrong.

      Blah. I think it’s two hours a day of each instrument. I’m going to change that in the post.


      • Annie (aka Anne B.)
        Annie (aka Anne B.) says:

        Yes, and as I posted above but will add again here: I practiced 4-6 hours from age 11 to 18 – because I wanted to. Because, yes, Music is a Way we Be, not what we do; and I also loved it when Katerina said, “Music is a Language”. As well as complimenting my mother – it has often been hard for me to do so, but she was a very good person, warts and all.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        that makes more sense – I totally would have believed the 4-6 hours, the 8+ seemed too much. But you have no idea how often this math mistake (being off by a factor of 2 or 10 is made….). And many engineering students frighteningly never realize it when the numbers they come up with don’t make sense. And they certainly should have a good grasp of it. cheers.

  11. Anne B.
    Anne B. says:

    Penelope, I am a professional level amateur classical pianist who started when I was 8 years old and went through years of intensive practice, study, and more. I did not become a professional musician (a story for another day) and now, in addition to my own business, I play piano, and recently, also accordion and flugelhorn.

    There are so many things that I learned because I studied a musical instrument intensely as a child and I want to list them for you:

    Discipline and how to work really hard to achieve a result I wanted (beautiful music)

    The ability to work through frustration and difficulty to achieve something I really wanted (to play that piece of music; to get to that next musical opportunity)

    Humility (because now matter how hard I worked, I could have been better and that’s what musicians – and many others – do; we judge ourselves, critically)

    A connection to God – as a child, I couldn’t put it in those words, but playing music is a deeply spiritual practice, if you truly engage in it honestly.

    A connection to myself and a way to calm myself.

    I do believe it helped organize my somewhat dyslexic brain so that I could be focussed and effective in many things.

    Ability to play well with others. The act of playing music in ensembles, orchestras, garage bands – all this taught me so much about how to listen to others, how to lead, how to be led – invaluable life skills.

    Oh, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve gone, and the music I’ve made and continue to make. So much goodness has come and continues to come to me, because I stuck with it as a child, and have continued to return to music and work it, episodically, throughout my life.

    And – it was my mother, not a musician herself, who sat with me while I practiced in those early years when I did not want to or know how to practice (I started at age 8); my mother who drove me (fortunately we were only 45 minutes from NYC, so it was a lot easier than what you have) to piano lessons, waited for me, drove me home – and did the same for both my brothers through many years – even though she was running her own business at the same time and not exactly a lady of leisure.

    So – yes, I am an advocate of music lessons – and if you have children who have some modicum (or more!) of talent and passion and even ambition – it is, I believe, one of the biggest gifts you can give your children to get them to the right teachers and with good instruments – with me and one of my two brothers, it has been an investment that has paid off over and over again throughout our lives, and difficult as it was having the mother I had (another story), in regards to my music, she was and always will be, golden beyond compare.

    Anne B on blizzardy Boston morn.

  12. sarah
    sarah says:

    When I read your music posts I look at my son and think, “You poor thing, if only you had been born to Penelope.” He is a music prodigy. After that thought, I felt I was screwing him for life because I am not giving him the hours he needs.

    At the age of 6 he taught himself Fur Elise, by ear. We went 3 years without a piano and was able to start him in lessons in June 2014. He is playing (and reading ) year 3 music in 7 months. He is replicating Trans Siberian Orchestra’s music by ear. I never make him practice. I am unaware when he practices. His piano teacher told me,”If a child is going to be a success he/she will do it on their own.” And I think she’s right. It’s the same argument I agree with for unschooling.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Intrinsic motivation and knowing they can do it, choosing to do it themselves, and having a support system.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Is playing by ear prodigy?

      I have a lot of musician friends that can play by ear, that’s how some started out.

  13. Kristin Thomspon
    Kristin Thomspon says:

    I recently borrowed my brother’s violin from my parents so I could learn to play along with my son in his Suzuki class. To my surprise, although banged up a little from once being well ‘played and loved’ by a teenage boy, the instrument was in decent condition for having spent the last 25 years in a closet.

    My parents, specifically my mother, was like you having shelled out thousands of dollars and thousands of hours dragging my brother and I to our respective music lessons, his private violin lessons and junior orchestra, and my endless competitions for piano, vocal performance and show choirs. Then one day at the age of 14, my brother suffered a major asthma attack, spent weeks in the ICU and as a result suffered major memory loss to the point where he couldn’t remember anything about his childhood including how to play his violin. So he gave it up, never touching it again. It completely changed him as a person and he spent the next 20 years trying to ‘find himself’. Occasionally through the years he would have a flashback memory and he would call mom up to see if what he had ‘dreamed’ had actually happened.

    This Christmas the family came over to my house and my six year old gave a short performance for his grandparents and my brother consisting of the typical Suzuki songs. My brother asked me if he could borrow his old violin for a bit and he spent the next day or so finger picking some of the Suzuki tunes that were popping into his head (he had also started violin at age seven playing the Suzuki method). Then one evening he came into the living room with the violin and started playing some of the simple songs that were now filling his head for my mother. She hadn’t heard him play in 25 years and she balled her eyes out.

    Music is powerful.

  14. Teryn
    Teryn says:

    Thanks for sharing that article! I took piano lessons for 6 months as a kid before I quit because I didn’t want to spend time practicing. I’ve always regretted that so at the times when my son has wanted to quit piano I haven’t let him. Last year I started taking lessons again and I notice there are times when my brain has trouble grasping a new concept that I feel like quitting. Once I press through I am so thankful I didn’t. I see that same sense of accomplishment in my son when he doesn’t give up. In general I have a hard time knowing when to allow my kids to quit something, especially if they are decent at it. Someday my son will look back at his years of piano and either hate me or thank me for never letting him give up. Time will tell!

  15. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    When my son was 9, he begged me to get him a violin. I was a newly single mom, broke, stressed, on the verge of losing everything…But, I managed to get him a violin and he started learning in school. I was such a mess at that time, that I really didn’t practice with him, or help him much at home. I asked about it, suggested he practice, but that’s about it. He dropped it.

    Years later he told me at the recitals, he had no idea what he was doing and held his bow above his instrument, so he wouldn’t mess up the orchestra. It broke my heart. A lot of things break my heart about those years. Anyway….

    Last year, at age 18, I gave him a guitar for his birthday. I got him private lessons. He’s managed to acquire 2 more guitars since then. He’s really loving it, likes his teacher, looks forward to his lessons, etc…. It makes him feel good. I know he feels proud of himself, that he’s learning this. I know he feels a sense of accomplishment and confidence. He wasn’t good in school. This is something he’s good at.

    It assuages my sadness over the past and my failure to support his musical desires when he was younger. But, it wasn’t too late for him to get something really beautiful and good out of learning music.

    I was not looking to create a professional performer. I simply wanted to give my child the gift of exploring a talent, and feeling a sense of joy in doing so. That’s what my art is to me, something that brings me joy in the doing and creating.

  16. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    This question sparked a little discussion in my family. I am not a musician, but my extended family has dozens of musicians. They run the gamut, including opera singers, bluegrass fiddlers, banjo pickers, square dance callers, heavy metal bassists, classical and klezmer clarinetists, gospel folkies, and aging doo-woppers.

    I ended up not being a musician mostly because my mother divorced my fiddler dad when I was a little boy, and the negative reinforcement was sufficient. Also, I have no discipline.

    As a non-musician, I had to run my theory about why music lessons are worth it by my musician wife, and she concurs. What the disparate musicians in my extended family all have in common is that they are most happy when they play music with their friends.

    Music lessons aren’t worth it because of the vanishingly small chance (similar to the chance of playing professional basketball or being a matinee idol) you will be gainfully employed as a musician. They aren’t worth it for the prospect of a college scholarship – you’re likely to spend more than the present value of the scholarship on the lessons. They are worth it because playing music with your friends and family is awesome.

    If your family is full of musicians, like mine is, the fact of their present enjoyment is inescapable. It’s not worth it for the then there, but it is worth it for the here and now. It’s worth it when the kid joins tunefully in family sing-alongs and jams around the piano or campfire. It’s worth it when mom spends hours digging into the accompaniment on piano. It’s even worth it for the non-musician parent, when he hears his son solfege beautifully through his homework as the morning bacon sizzles.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have heard from so many people that playing music with other people is a reward for all the practicing. That the group sessions are really fun even for adults who are no longer taking lessons. That part seems nice – something the kids will always have.


  17. Merriam Music
    Merriam Music says:

    It is absolutely incredible how little we think about how much time and effort is put into growing and into evolving to a high caliber of musician. As with most goals, I strongly believe that it is always the journey that we get addicted to. Very often it is a long distance goal that gets us started down a particular path, however it is the everyday passion that creates all of the greats we idolize today. I love articles like this that put that daily investment into perspective. It makes me appreciate all students of music, and professionals that have persisted for so long, and will always reap the benefit of their dedication to their craft.

  18. Scott Conway BFA, AEA
    Scott Conway BFA, AEA says:

    Of course, when you put a great deal of effort into training a child and they quit, it is somewhat disappointing.

    Training in music, or dance can, as you stated, develop an individual in an emotional or behavioural way; some benefits will be reaped even if they chose to quit.

    I received most of my training at the California Ballet School, later becoming a company member of the California Ballet Company dancing in many classics. I also trained at United States International University where I received a BFA in musical theatre and directing. All of that training led me to the position that I am now in.

  19. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I have some links that say music lessons are worth the effort. A TED talk by Dr. Anita Collins – . Also her web page which references four papers (three of which are free and located in the right column) – . Look around her web site for more information. She also has a Facebook community at .

  20. JohnUnger
    JohnUnger says:

    To my mind, children should be comprehensively developed, but another question whether such efforts worth it. If person have no propensity this art, how deep he/she should be involved? May be, if he/she has more addiction to assignment writing for instance, it’s better to pay attention to writing skills.

  21. Douglas Brown
    Douglas Brown says:

    The number of hours a week devoted to music lessons is insane–and I mean that in a good way! Thanks for linking the Washington Post article about how music affects a child’s emotional growth. One thing my wife and I have always thought was a good idea was to keep our children involved with learning music. I am glad that there are others that say the same thing. Thanks for the post.

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