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Why Learn a Musical Instrument?

Director of Performing Arts Kim Lemon discusses the ways that musical instruction develops not only academic performance but wellbeing.

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From outside the Performing Arts office, I am often greeted with the sounds of students engaging in a myriad of musical activities most days of the School week, from early morning until late in the afternoon. Many Wenona families would have also experienced the sounds of a beginner saxophone, flute or trumpet being practised at home (or perhaps scales being played seemingly ad-nauseum!) These same families may be wondering why we have a compulsory Junior Instrumental Program from Years 3 to 6, and why the Music teachers spend so much time encouraging students to join a co-curricular music ensemble or choir during their time at Wenona. I mean, why should everyone be playing a musical instrument? What if your daughter’s already decided she’s not a ‘music kind of person’?

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Music is not often held in as high regard as playing a sport or being engaged in more physical pursuits. Yet, while listening to music is a huge part of our daily lives, playing a musical instrument can take us and our children’s learning to a whole new level. It is a scientific fact that it can improve both academic performance and wellbeing.

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For a start, playing an instrument engages young people in an artistic endeavour, developing their creativity and teaching them to read another language (i.e., music notation). It also builds fine motor skills (think of the little movements of the fingers during those pesky but super important scales that you hear on repeat!) requires concentration, strengthens discipline and perseverance, improves memory, fosters resilience and patience, and engenders confidence and time management. Not least, it fires up neurons in ways that can improve the way children connect and store information. For more, you might like to read this 10-step breakdown from the folks at Classic FM.

In addition to all that goodness, what you might never have considered is that learning a musical instrument also can be a team sport. What’s that, you say? Well … imagine learning all those musical skills while being part of a collective experience and sharing your gift with others in an ensemble, orchestra, or band. Students feel an amazing sense of achievement when all the pieces of the puzzle come together. They also get to collaborate with other students from all over the School in an incredibly fun way.

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This year’s Junior Instrumental Program (IP) has the theme ‘Setting Fireworks Off in Our Brain’. In Term 1, the students watched a short TED-Ed video from Dr Anita Collins explaining ‘How Playing A Musical Instrument Benefits Your Brain’ and engaged in some fantastic discussions about making individual goals in IP.

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It wasn’t about perfection or ‘being the best’. It was about setting their own personal goal and working out how to achieve it. I mentioned earlier that I can hear the students playing outside my office each week. The difference in quality and confidence in their performances even from Term 1 to Term 2 is extraordinary, particularly when they come together as a Year Group and play together as a band. I cannot wait to hear them at the end of the year.

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We are incredibly lucky to have such a wide range of Music programs available at Wenona. The students’ high level of engagement would not be possible without the support of the informed parents and guardians who encourage their cellist, violinist, or flautist, to practice just that little bit longer, or one more time that week.

Celebrating these small goals can have a profound effect. Ongoing support from home, not just in a Music lesson, is a vital part of keeping the love of music alive. Imagine the possibilities for positive academic growth and engagement if we all, students, parents and teachers, join towards this common goal. Together, we’ll really start setting off those ‘fireworks in the brain’.

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Kim Lemon
Director of Performing Arts