Rock Your Kid's World
Music lessons can benefit children for life.
Nine-year-old Emma Grace Ramb leans forward, wavy golden-brown locks brushing her face as she fingers the fretboard of her beginner guitar. Clutching a plastic pick in her right hand, she studies the paper notes on “12 Bar Blues in The Key of C.” Her white-goateed, pony-tailed guitar teacher, Rudy Dulcie, shows how to hold the pick just so. Let the lesson begin. In the tiny studio—one of many at the Band Room, a local music institution since 1989—Dulcie, 65, encourages, corrects and celebrates Emma Grace’s guitar technique. “Now let’s practice your Taylor Swift chords,” says Dulcie, a former show band musician. Just two months after she began taking guitar lessons, Emma Grace, a quick-witted fourth grader at Blankner Elementary, can imagine a music career in the spotlight.
“I want to be a Christian artist. I want to become famous. That would be cool!” Emma Grace says with a confident grin. Her mom, Melissa Ramb, a voice teacher and church chorus director, is happy just knowing her daughter “understands how music is created” and is learning the discipline to practice “even when you don’t feel like it. The big part of learning is being willing to be wrong and not quitting when you face a challenge.”
When parents expose their children to music, they open the door to a world of life lessons and possibilities, says Kelly Miller, University of Central Florida coordinator of music education and women’s chorus and ensemble director. Research, she says, has shown that music instruction improves brain development overall and can specifically enhance skills related to language, listening, math and motor skills. A child’s hand-eye coordination, oral communication, reasoning and self-discipline can improve dramatically when he or she commits to music lessons and practice.
“One study showed that children who had three years or more of musical instrument training tested better on vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills, as well as identifying relationships and the similarities between shapes and patterns,” says Miller, who was a public school teacher before joining UCF. “They also recorded higher scores in reading comprehension.”
And there are other compelling reasons to expose youth to music lessons, says Bette Hunting, director of the Suzuki Music Institute in Maitland. Students who practice and perform in recitals develop confidence, learn to recover and improvise when they miss a note and are inspired by other students who perform.
“Kids learn from each other, and that’s a very important part of the process,” says Hunting who, in 1980, opened the music school for piano, cello, violin, viola and guitar. “Music also helps with character development—you become more sensitive and, I hope, kinder by loving music and caring about the sounds you make. It helps nurture your inner soul.”
One of Hunting’s students, 16-year-old Raphael Fernandez, plays piano, composes music, and sings in the Lake Brantley High School honors chorus. He also takes cello lessons and plays in the Metropolitan Area Youth Symphony and the school jazz ensemble. His parents enrolled him in Hunting’s piano program when he was 5 years old.
“In kindergarten, Raphael had issues with focusing in class—his attention span was very short,” says his mom, Merlyn Fernandez. “That’s why we started it and, oh my gosh! It took a while but, in the end, we saw tremendous help with his discipline, self esteem and self confidence.”
Raphael, who plans to major in music composition in college, says solving math problems is “a walk in the park” and associates that skill with his love for composing music. “It’s from the same hemisphere of the brain,” he says. Raphael also enjoys the camaraderie of other music students. “It has helped my social life a lot. In chorus, we share a lot in common and talk about the same things.”
Many kids who learn how to play guitar, percussion and other instruments team up with friends to jam in garage bands. And they always have music to lean on in times of stress, says Dulcie of the Band Room, who toured the country playing in bands in the 1960s and ’70s before turning to teaching.
“Music is such a personal thing that you can do it with other people or by yourself and become lost in the activity,” says Dulcie, who even finds it therapeutic to teach his students. “Their eyes light up when they hear something familiar. It’s just amazing to them that they can create that sound themselves. When they learn their first song, it’s like they conquered the world.”
UCF’s Miller suggests parents consult a music teacher at their child’s school for private lesson recommendations and let children join an extracurricular school band, chorus or orchestra ensemble. For preschoolers, Miller suggests area KinderMusik programs. At UCF, the Community Music Program (music.ucf.edu) offers a variety of music activities for families and camps for children in middle school and high school. Other organizations for parents to explore are: A Gift For Music, Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra, Youth Bands of Orlando, Orlando Children’s Choir, Bach Festival Youth Choir and Children’s Choir of Orlando. A good national resource is the National Association for Music Education at nafme.org.