Music is our universal language and all children can benefit from music education, no matter their natural ability. But it’s undeniable that some kids have that certain something; maybe they sing right on pitch, understand musical concepts quickly or pick out tunes by themselves on the piano. How can you recognize a natural musical talent and support an inherent ability? And how does a musical education benefit children? We asked a few local music professionals for their thoughts.
“There are numerous benefits to a music education,” says Amy Immerman, co-owner of the Cincinnati Music Academy. “It teaches discipline and poise. It teaches us to be multi-functional. It really works a high-functioning part of our brain. In this age of instant gratification, you can’t go out and purchase ability. You have to earn it. Music teaches us the value of having to pursue the discipline of self-learning.”
Linda Conrad, a private piano teacher in Cincinnati, says she’s seen children who have had music lessons improve their skills in science and math. “Music uses the same parts of the brain as science,” she says, adding that she has also witnessed kids’ confidence levels increase when they are successful at music.
What signs might indicate a natural inclination towards music? “Natural ability can show up at any age and when it does it’s just us recognizing it,” says Immerman. Parents may notice that their child just seems drawn to music. Conrad says that kids with a natural ability “will like music in general. They move to the music when you’re playing it, they may want to join in.” If your child taps a beat, is a drawn to a musical instrument or is mesmerized by music, it may be a sign that they have a musical inclination. “Your child might hear the words to a song but they’ll also pick up the music in the background and say, ‘hey, that’s a violin.’ They hear sounds differently and with more complexity,” says Immerman.
Louise Olberding is a parent with a musically talented child. Her seventeen-year-old son, Ben, plays the piano and the trumpet. Ben began attending music classes in kindergarten and, two years later, started private piano lessons. “I’m not musical myself but my husband plays the guitar,” says Olberding. “I put Ben in classes because I didn’t know if he was musical but I wanted to see if he was. I thought that I would put him in and have it be a part of his education as he grew up.” Ben didn’t show a natural ability right away, but as he grew, he expressed a unique interest in music. “He was interested in a wide variety of music. When he was watching a movie he would hear the background music and go look it up,” says Olberding. But there were rough patches, too. “There was a time when I was pulling out my hair trying to bribe him to practice, but we got over that and he is much more self-motivated now. Around the ninth or tenth grade he grew exponentially and I began to see that he had a certain musicality.”
If your son or daughter is displaying a natural talent for music, there are many ways you can appropriately support and encourage him or her. “Take the child to concerts. Let her listen to different kinds of music. Encourage her to take music lessons. You may want your child to take piano lessons, but if your child is very vocal about the instrument they want to learn, that’s the one you should go with,” says Immerman. “A parent needs to encourage and praise the children for their successes and they shouldn’t be too hard on them on their failures,” adds Conrad. “For a lot of kids, if they already have some general talent, the biggest thing they need for success is confidence.”
And while we all want to make sure that our child reaches his or her potential, it’s important to avoid the pitfalls of being overzealous about your child’s musical talent. “You can burn a child out,” says Conrad. “Some parents overschedule their kids. Piano requires scheduled time at home, not just the time they are at lessons.” Olberding stresses the importance of finding a teacher that works well with your child. When Ben began losing interest in the piano, his teacher let him bring in music from his favorite cartoons and that kept him interested and motivated. “We had a teacher that wasn’t a good fit but when we moved on to another teacher it made a big difference. If you have a teacher that doesn’t work great with your child, keep trying.”
Remember, too, that it’s normal for a child to complain about going to lessons or practicing at home, but if your child has no interest in music, pay attention. “If a parent forces a child to continue lessons when they truly don’t want to, they might not play as adults. They might hate it and quit,” says Immerman. “If it isn’t fun you’ve missed the whole point.”