You’re never too old to learn to play an instrument. Playing an instrument can be a joy for anyone, whether you choose to begin with the piano at age 4 or the guitar at age 40. The important thing to remember for those who pursue the study of a musical instrument is that the success of the endeavor ultimately comes down to one thing: practice. No musician can ever become proficient with his or her chosen instrument if he or she neglects to practice.
Listed below are a collection of important tips for student musicians who want to get the most out of their practice sessions.
Choose a Good Practice Place
Practicing an instrument takes dedication and focus. The process will be much easier if you have a quiet, secluded area free from distractions like TV or the conversations of others. It can also be beneficial to designate a specific area of the home for this purpose, and return to it with your instrument whenever you practice.
Whether you make a practice space in the corner of your bedroom or have a whole room dedicated to the purpose, make sure that any supplies you may need for your practice session are nearby before you begin. Getting up to search for needed supplies in the middle of practicing can distract the mind and make it difficult to dedicate the necessary attention to the process.
Give Yourself a Goal for Each Session
Learning an instrument can feel overwhelming and frustrating at times. However, entering into every practice session with a goal in mind can help you stay motivated and on track.
Picking up your instrument to practice without a pre-established goal can leave you feeling unsure of your progress at the end of the session, so choose an objective for the day before you sit down to play, no matter how small. Examples of goals include mastering chord changes, learning a picking pattern, or even familiarizing yourself with the fingering of new chords.
Don't Rush through Pieces
Practicing an instrument is not only about the memorization of pieces. There will be occasions in which you will need to focus on the memorization of whole songs. However, the point of practicing is to develop good technique and generate the muscle memory needed to play a piece correctly.
Rushing through a piece from beginning to end each time you practice leaves you vulnerable to making repeated mistakes that become ingrained into your playing. Such mistakes are much more difficult to undo later. Instead, it is best to learn correctly the first time.
Focus on small parts of a piece at a time. Make it a point to repeat passages in which you miss notes until you have played each passage the correct way multiple times. The tempo of the song and the number of bars that you play can be gradually increased as you become more familiar with the piece.
Find a Practice Schedule That Works for You
If you really want to play well, you should set aside time to practice your instrument every day, but each musician must develop a practice schedule that suits his or her own needs. However often you choose to practice, remember that sessions don’t have to be played at any specific time or manner.
If you have more energy in the morning, consider practicing before school or work. If you are at your best later in the afternoons, practice in the evening when you return home for the day. Also remember that your practice time can be broken up into multiple segments, if it makes the process more enjoyable.
Whether you dedicate 30 minutes or two hours to practicing, taking a break between sessions can make learning an instrument more enjoyable for some. This is especially the case for young musicians, who may find it difficult to focus for prolonged periods of time.
Always Warm Up
Both beginning and experienced music students should make it a point to warm up before practicing a piece. Starting out slowly with a scale that allows your fingers to get proper exercise can help prepare your hands, fingers, and wrists for the workout that they receive each time you pick up your instrument. Those who neglect to warm up may run the risk of developing hand muscle injuries, such as carpal tunnel and tendonitis.
Look for Useful Tools to Help You along the Way
There are many phone apps, websites, YouTube videos, and other technologies that can help improve the way you practice. One of the best ways to gain some perspective about your progress is to record yourself in audio or video format as you play. Then, listen back to the recording to determine whether or not you’re playing the correct notes.
Remember That Playing Proficiently Will Take Time
One of the most difficult aspects of learning an instrument is to demonstrate patience. Though you will likely be eager to see results right away, it’s crucial for new musicians to remember that learning to play an instrument proficiently takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work.
Instead of being frustrated about the time it takes to play music well, focus on small victories along the way. Feel good about mastering the first few bars of a piece and give yourself recognition when you successfully memorize new chord progressions. Musicianship can be a true source of happiness for those who appreciate the process of learning to play, rather than just the idea of proficiency.
Science shows that people of all ages can experience significant benefits from the study of and exposure to music. This is especially true in the case of children, whose development can be positively influenced by the presence of music in their lives throughout each of the following stages of childhood.
Exposing a child to music in his or her infancy is an excellent way to lay the groundwork for musical development and appreciation later in life. Babies develop the ability to hear before they are even born, and the sense fully matures by the time they are one month old. This makes it easy for babies to respond to music from a very early age.
The infant brain has a predisposition toward learning music in a way similar to its inclination toward learning language. Singing to babies or rocking them gently to soft songs can nurture strong musical neural pathways that lead them to engage enthusiastically with songs as they grow. A baby who is familiar with music may also begin to vocally experiment with melodies the way that many babies experiment with speech—through babbling and producing their own sounds. Studies have shown that parents who rhythmically rock babies in time to music may help their children develop stronger cognitive skills, as the ability to recognize and predict rhythmic patterns in music can also affect a baby’s ability to recognize patterns and rhythm in speech.
For toddlers, music is an excellent way to help them learn and boost memory. Songs can help children accomplish learning feats such as remembering the alphabet, and can even be used to help them learn to master new skills, like how to tie their shoes.
Though each child is different, most experts agree it is best to wait until a child is around the age of five to begin taking formal music lessons. Though some children express interest in experimenting with instruments earlier, five-year-olds are generally better equipped to pay attention to a lesson and understand that they will not be able to immediately play music. Waiting until the child is older also reduces the risk that he or she will become bored and frustrated, and therefore turned off to musicianship altogether.
As children reach school age, those who practice music develop a wide range of valuable abilities and skills. Different studies of musicianship in children have noted that practicing an instrument may increase their capacity for creativity, improve spatial intelligence, expand mathematics skills, improve language comprehension, and strengthens various areas of the brain.
One study published by the Journal of Neuroscience indicates that young musicians develop stronger neural connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which ultimately results in these children displaying faster cognitive abilities than those of their peers. Another study conducted by Brown University showed that practicing an instrument increases the production of grey matter in the brain, leading to neural connections that fostered better skills in spelling, reading comprehension, and motor skills. Practicing an instrument in childhood may also improve a child’s ability to organize and problem-solve.
By the time a child reaches the “tween” years (between the ages of eight and 12), they may have the opportunity to participate in a school band. For many children, this age will be the first time they have the chance to practice an instrument, and the positive developmental effects continue to benefit kids at this stage of life. Like younger children, older children who practice music often do better in subjects like math and reading. In addition, making a commitment to play an instrument at this age requires ample practice, which teaches older children about the value of discipline and self-control. A child who practices regularly can apply this self-regulatory strength to other areas of academics, such as completing homework assignments.
There is also a social benefit to playing music as an older child. Playing an instrument in the school band or orchestra can help children understand the importance of patience and teamwork. Learning to work together and take turns during practice sessions can help kids at this age learn about the value of collaboration and what they can accomplish as part of a team. Participation in these groups also gives older children the opportunity to feel as though they are part of a larger community, which can be important in a phase of development when they begin to undergo emotional and social changes.
It’s common knowledge that music plays a significant role in the lives of teenagers, and a study from 2015 showed that children in this age group listen to an average of four hours of music every day. Music not only serves as an emotional outlet for teens and a way to express their personal identities, but it also has a social element as well. Music allows teenagers to bond with friends and form meaningful relationships with others in a way that is important for personal development.
Beyond listening to music, teenagers who practice an instrument continue to reap cognitive benefits that mirror those experienced by younger children. Scientific evidence confirms that practicing a musical instrument during the teenage years continues to boost brain development, leading to positive effects like stronger literacy skills. Positive effects outside of the brain include the fact that students who belong to high school band or orchestra groups are less likely to develop lifelong problems with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Teens who are musicians have also been noted to be less likely to display disciplinary problems and have higher grade point averages than their peers who did not play an instrument.
Studies have shown that children who pursue music education gain a multitude of benefits, including larger vocabularies, better study skills, and even a lower risk of substance abuse. Additionally, studying music early in life can influence brain development and improve a child’s capacity for memory. In order to help a young student take advantage of these and other benefits, parents should keep the following tips in mind when helping their child decide which instrument they should play.
1. Consider the child’s age.
There is a debate over when children should begin attending music lessons for the first time. While some experts suggest that children can begin music instruction at an age as young as three, others suggest waiting until the child is at least four or five years old to start. Signing a young child up for music lessons too early can result in frustration and boredom that prevents them from enjoying the process of developing their talent, leading them to ultimately reject music lessons throughout childhood. With that established, there are certain musical instruments that younger children will find easier to learn to play.
Piano is an excellent instrument for early learners, as young children can begin to practice as soon as they are physically capable of reaching the keys and have the hand strength required to push them down. Simpler instruments like the recorder are also a good option in the early years. A child can begin to practice the recorder as soon as their fingers can cover the instrument’s holes, and this can establish a path to playing other wind instruments like the clarinet, flute, or bassoon at an older age. Violin may also be an acceptable option for children around the age of five, as the instrument can be purchased in small sizes designed to fit small hands. Larger stringed instruments such as the cello or bass are better left to older children who are physically better equipped to play them.
As a child reaches the age of eight, more options become possible. At this age, fractional size guitars become easier for a child to learn, as well as small woodwind instruments like the flute and clarinet. These instruments are easier for a child to play when he or she has the physical ability to support them and play at the same time. By the age of 10, it is generally fine for a child to start lessons on any instrument, including larger, more difficult choices like the saxophone, trombone, or cello. Some woodwind instruments are better left to children whose front adult teeth have stabilized, as playing with gaps where teeth have yet to grow can cause difficulty.
2. Consider the child’s personality.
The child’s personality should play a significant role in the instrument that he or she chooses to play. Certain instruments lend themselves more toward energetic, extroverted children, while others are better suited for those who are quiet and introverted. For example, the flute may be a more fitting instrument for children who have no qualms about being center stage. Flutists are generally positioned toward the front of a band, and a child who plays the flute must be comfortable with being stationed in front of others during performances. Other instruments like saxophone and trumpet are lead instruments frequently featured in solos and melody lines, which may be a better fit for outgoing children who are comfortable in the spotlight.
Children who exhibit introverted, quieter personalities may enjoy learning to play the piano, an instrument they can practice independently and use to provide melodic background support to others or continue to perform solo. Children who are on the shy or quiet side may also enjoy stringed instruments like the violin, viola, and cello, which give them the opportunity to contribute to a musical number as a part of a group, rather than bringing singular attention to themselves during a performance. Children who are extremely independent and technical may enjoy an instrument like guitar, while children with hyperactive or restless qualities may find an outlet in drums and percussion instruments.
3. Consider the child’s personal preference.
Ultimately, if a child shows a passion for or an interest in a specific instrument, that should be the instrument that he or she pursues. Children who are allowed to practice an instrument that they have chosen for themselves will be more likely to commit to the practice it takes to become proficient. In addition, they will be less likely to quit when practicing music becomes complicated or frustrating. Parents who choose instruments for their children to play without the child’s input may be disappointed when their child becomes frustrated and gives up the instrument entirely later on.
If a child does not show interest in any particular instrument, parents should consider letting him or her try out a variety of instruments before settling on one. After all, children will benefit from the pursuit of music no matter which instrument they decide to practice. In addition, parents must be prepared to actively support their children’s musical endeavors, attend concerts, and provide them with the tools they need to foster a positive relationship with music that carries over into their adult lives.
If you’re looking for a fun activity to do with your child that will further his or her love of music, you should consider watching a documentary about music together. There are plenty of films out there that explore a variety of music-related topics, including the history of music, the lives of various musicians, and the effects that music has on our brains.
To get the most out of the documentary you choose, be sure to take the opportunity to discuss it afterwards with your child. Did your child find any scene particularly memorable? Were any parts of the film confusing or surprising?
The following are a few of the best music documentaries that families can enjoy together:
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years
Directed by multiple-award-winner Ron Howard, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years chronicles the four legendary band members from 1963 to 1966 through a series of stories, exclusive interviews, and concert footage. The film describes how the fabulous four created their music and how the group coped with their unprecedented rise to fame.
Actual concert footage gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at some of the group’s most iconic moments. For example, at the very first Beatles concert held in the United States, the band had to perform a 12-song set for about 8,000 fans while standing in a boxing ring. Because the group was positioned in the center of the stadium, the Fab Four had to stop every few songs and rotate themselves and their mics and amps 90 degrees so that everyone in the audience could see them.
The documentary was originally released in theaters and made available for streaming on Hulu in September 2016, a few weeks after the 50th anniversary of Beatles’ last concert, which took place at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. In November 2016, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years won a Critics Choice Documentary Award for best music documentary.
How Music Works
A four-episode documentary that aired in the UK in 2006, How Music Works explores how every song shares a few common elements: melody, rhythm, harmony, and bass. The episodes are essentially a series of music lessons backed by easy-to-understand explanations. This documentary is a must-watch for those who enjoy listening to music but don’t know much about it.
As composer Howard Goodall explains each component, he provides precise detail on the role scales and tempo play in the musical process. To help viewers better hear the connection between each song, Goodall quickly switches from one genre to another. One of the best things about this documentary is that it flattens out the music hierarchy, reminding people that no particular form is superior to another.
The Music Instinct: Science and Song
Exploring the psychological, emotional, and biological impact of music, The Music Instinct: Science and Song examines how and why music stirs our emotions and details the proven healing power of music. The two-hour documentary, which premiered in 2009, takes viewers on an educational journey that shows exactly how the brain processes sounds and the ways that music is distinct from any other type of sound.
According to the film, a wide variety of factors, including our memories, determine how we interpret music we hear. This explains why listening to a certain song can stir up powerful emotions or elicit thoughts of good or bad times.
The Music Instinct: Science and Song also features renowned musicians such as jazz legend Bobby McFerrin and accomplished cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who provide insight into how music has particularly affected them. During filming, McFerrin teams up with the World Singers in order to demonstrate how tempo, pitch, and melody trigger a variety of brain responses. Yo-Yo Ma plays educates viewers on how musicians use intervals to create harmonies.
Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Elena Mannes and narrated by Audra MacDonald, The Music Instinct: Science and Song is available on pbs.org, Amazon.com, and YouTube.
These are just a few of many interesting documentaries about music, but there are countless other options available for you and your family to watch. DocumentaryTube.com is a great resource for finding free and engaging music documentaries online. Resources like this can be invaluable for music enthusiasts, as well as for teachers and students of music.
Media sources, such as radio, TV, and the Internet, are gaining a stronger foothold in all of our lives. In fact, teens today spend about two and a half hours each day listening to music on their laptops, smartphones, and tablets. With unlimited access to billions of songs, young people can easily stumble upon new artists and styles of music, some of which you may not think are appropriate for your child’s age or level of emotional development. For example, 1 in 3 popular songs now contain references to using drugs or alcohol. Violent and sexually explicit lyrics are another huge problem.
There is so much in our children’s environment that we can’t control. However, by laying a little groundwork, we can exert some influence our children’s musical tastes. Read on for tips on how to have a say, even if it’s just a small one, in what music you children listen to.
Focus on Variety
One way to help your child develop a deep appreciation for all styles of music is to expose them to different genres as early as possible. For very young children, you should choose songs that feature prominent instruments, such as piano and guitar. To encourage your children to immerse themselves in the musical experience rather than just listen to the songs and sing along with them, you should purchase inexpensive replica instruments that they can “play” as an accompaniment the recording.
Having a diverse musical library that includes everything from classical to rock and roll will inevitably lead your child to be curious about other musical genres. A large collection also allows children to challenge themselves musically and teaches them to pick out various rhythms, keys, and tones within songs from an early age.
Don’t forget to show your kids how music affects you. When an oldie-but-goodie comes on the radio, don’t be shy—go ahead and belt it out. Your kids may not ever really like Pink Floyd, but they will come to realize that all types of music can bring people joy.
Talk to Your Child
Communication is an important part of influencing what your child listens to. Start by initiating a conversation with your child allowing him or her to explain to you why he or she listens to his or her favorite music. It's important to let your child know that not only are you looking out for his or her best interests, but you also value his or her opinion.
When having this discussion, avoid negativity and outright criticism of your child’s music, even if deep down you disapprove. If the lyrical content of the songs is a point of contention for you, try to focus on the parts of the music that you can appreciate. For example, if the music itself stirs certain emotions in your child or encourages him or her to become more physically active because of the song’s upbeat tempo, be sure to let your child know this. Unfortunately, the more you voice your disapproval of your child’s music, the more he or she will likely gravitate towards it.
By remaining objective and actively listening, you can show your child that you are truly hearing him or her with regard to his or her musical tastes. You may still wish to censor what your child listens to, but he or she will be more inclined to follow your rules than rebel if you approach the situation with an open mind.
Closely Monitor Your Child
Although many music educators do not believe in the concept of “too much music,” it is still up to parents to decide what their children may listen to. For younger children, it can be easier to purchase all of their music for them and carefully control what they have access to, but monitoring the listening habits of older children and teens can be a little more complicated.
Some parents may find it necessary to sit nearby, giving their input on which songs are acceptable and which ones they consider inappropriate as their child makes musical selections for his or her MP3 player. Doing this can encourage the child to make positive choices while remaining aware that a parent is monitoring him or her.
Giving your child a little bit of freedom to select his or her own music will ultimately help you and your child develop a rapport while giving him or her a sense of independence. It's important that parents keep in mind that occasionally listening to hip-hop or rock music has not been shown to have any significant impact on your child's long term development. Simply listening to a few songs will not usually turn into an obsession with a particular genre; therefore, it is important that you aren’t overly strict regarding your child’s musical selections.
Children who choose to play an instrument are often limited to the piano or violin. Once children get close to high school, then joining a marching band may seem more appealing. While performing in a marching may appear to be fun and easy, there are a variety of different aspects that go into these performances. Participating in a marching band is not necessarily the easiest musical activity to embark upon. Students are often required to perform outdoors in inclement weather conditions, all while wearing heavy uniforms and carrying even heavier instruments. Band members are expected to be able to do all of these things and to still play at a high level. Find out about all the ins and outs of joining a marching band and how to encourage your child once he or she becomes part of the team.
Practice Schedules and Time Management
One of the most crucial aspects of participating in a marching band is finding time to practice and to manage your time effectively. Band members are expected to balance their academic requirements and complete their homework on time, which can be a challenge when you’re trying to squeeze in time for band practice. Interestingly, marching bands are one of the few extracurricular activities that is undertaken almost year-round, and in many cases, practices even occur over summer break. Members of the marching band are around each other for a great deal of time, helping to foster strong bonds among the band.
In general, children who desire to join a marching band have been shown to be high achievers and are usually well behaved in the classroom. Ensuring that these children are around other like-minded individuals can have a positive effect, and it has been shown that relationships with one’s peers can have a significant impact on how students view their overall high school experience. Rehearsals for marching band routines are typically long and conducted outdoors, regardless of the weather. Practicing under these grueling conditions requires strong mental fortitude and a solid work ethic.
Building Teamwork Skills
Marching band stands apart in the world of high school activities because it brings together students from various classes and age groups. From freshmen to seniors, the marching band offers students the opportunity to network with those who not are not necessarily in their graduating class. Joining a marching band can be a great way to make new friends, and some schools even allow incoming students to join a summer program prior to their freshman year, which will provide them with instant friendships once the school year actually begins.
Marching band routines are often choreographed, and students have to learn to work closely with one another and exhibit a true team mentality in order to pull off a successful performance. Teamwork skills can help prepare students to join college marching bands, where routines are often televised, and any discord is quickly noticed by fans. Scouts are often on the lookout for the best and brightest individuals to join some of the country's most prestigious marching bands, so it is always important for all members to work together to produce the best performance possible.
Working with Band Directors
During a marching band performance, most of the focus is on the musicians, but the team cannot accomplish anything without the help of a strong band director. Similar to an orchestra conductor, marching band directors are responsible for organizing the performances and making the entire production appear effortless.
While they often don’t receive credit, band directors play a central role in the success of a band. The reason why many great marching band directors are generally not seen is that they understand that in a team environment, when one individual succeeds, the entire team succeeds.
Opportunity for Exercise
In addition to all of the social and time management skills required to participate in a marching band, it is also a great form of exercise, even for those who don't necessarily enjoy it. Being part of a marching band requires a great deal of movement—often in hot weather—which will inevitably burn a lot of calories. Sedentary children will have a chance to engage in much-needed physical activity and develop stamina. Even those students who start out slow will soon be able to keep up with their band mates.
Students who participate on a marching band use several different muscle groups, which can help them to become stronger overall and perform better in other extracurricular activities. Marching bands can also help students develop proper breathing technique, as breath control is essential to play instruments while engaging in rigorous physical activity. One survey even indicated that marching band performers move about 180 steps per minute on average while playing instruments that can weigh upwards of 40 pounds.
Marching band practice is certainly rigorous and not for the faint of heart. However, despite the long practice hours, exposure to the elements, and the physical requirements of being in a marching band, many members generally would not trade the experience for anything else.
Emotional intelligence is similar to the intelligence quotient (IQ). However, instead of trying to figure out how smart people are based on their answers to questions, emotional intelligence is more concerned with how people relate to others. School administrators have begun to understand more about how emotional intelligence plays into the lives of students, and more school districts have begun to integrate emotional intelligence into their curricula. Music classes are the easiest way to facilitate activities that can help students develop emotional intelligence.
It is widely accepted that participating in music classes can have a calming effect on children with a variety of emotional disorders or who struggle with behavioral problems at home and at school. In terms of emotional intelligence, music can help individuals to develop positive emotions such as empathy, active listening, and other pro-social behaviors.
While less research has been conducted on emotional intelligence and its connection to music education, the research that has been conducted has been promising. For example, one researcher examined the differences between musicians and non-musicians when it came to emotional intelligence, and the findings were quite interesting.
Researcher Glenn Schellenberg separated emotional intelligence into four categories: the ability to perceive emotions, understand how emotions operate, use emotions to facilitate critical thinking, and manage emotions in social situations. Schellenberg sought to find a connection between music and emotional intelligence, as well as to explain the meaning behind the higher IQ scores of musicians. Although the study's findings weren't considered statistically significant by scientific standards, there was a strong indication that musicians score better on IQ tests than their non-musical counterparts.
Another study focused on adults who completed a series of tests designed to gauge the connection between music and emotional intelligence. In one standardized emotional test, participants wrote about the emotions that they believed they would experience in hypothetical situations. The other test looked at participants’ ability to listen to classical piano while attempting to describe the emotions elicited by the music. Study participants with higher levels of emotional intelligence were able to accurately describe the emotions elicited by the music. By comparing the studies’ two sets of tests, it was revealed that the same emotions necessary to deal with everyday situations were the same ones used to identify the meaning behind the music.
One explanation was that listening to music and learning how to play it presents several inherent challenges that can only be mastered with a proper level of emotional intelligence and cognitive functioning, such as hand-eye coordination, attention span, and several other indicators.
Just as the Mozart Effect has been shown to increase students’ ability to express themselves verbally, additional research has examined how music can impact cognitive functioning in other areas of life. Research has shown that music students are better able to execute tasks that involve listening such as identifying songs. These enhanced listening skills can be essential for developing healthy emotional intelligence. Moreover, music has been shown to have a generally positive effect on nearly any task that a person is required to perform.
Developing Musical Flow
Both amateur and professional musicians often use the word “flow” to describe this part of the creative process. Flow basically refers to the creation of a musical piece intended to elicit a certain reaction from an audience and represents the range of emotions that musicians go through in the process. The performer is highly motivated to speak directly to a specific type of listener in the creation of the music, which requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. Developing an understanding of what type of music stirs certain emotions means that a musician must have a close connection to that set of emotions themselves.
Essentially, flow is the optimal music experience for both the musician and the listener. Researchers describe flow as a rewarding aspect of the musical experience—both for the performer and the listener. Once optimal flow is achieved, it creates a circular creative pattern of wanting to continue producing more emotionally impactful music. Despite the anecdotal evidence that links musical flow with higher emotional intelligence, there has still been a lack of in-depth research on the topic. What is known is that musicians who have higher levels of emotional intelligence tend to focus on flow and are able to engage in music creation for longer periods of time.
Helping children to deal with their emotions in a positive way is one of the chief advantages of participating in musical activities. Parents can help to encourage their children to develop an emotional connection to music before they are even old enough to participate in lessons on their own by introducing sounds and rhythms into their lives at an early age. As children grow up, it is important to nurture their musical interests and find new ways to engage them. Older children can also benefit, since learning social skills associated with high emotional intelligence will help them to navigate tough situations as they progress through school.
Over the last two decades, music has begun to play a more prominent role in video games. Many video game aficionados believe that music is one of the most significant parts of the video game experience. Over time, video game music has risen to a level comparable to that of movie soundtracks in terms of its importance to the overall entertainment experience.
Music appreciation and video game scores are not mutually exclusive, and many renowned orchestras have even gone so far as to recreate scores of popular video games in a live format. This was seen in the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s production of Rhapsody in Blue, which featured music from the classic Tetris video game. The Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra even performed orchestral video game music concerts that ran for five years and were led by one of the world's most renowned conductors, Koichi Sugiyama.
Video Game Music and the Arts
According to statistics, classical music in the United States has declined in popularity by nearly 30 percent since the year 2010. In fact, since many United States orchestras have faded in obscurity and suffered financial ruin as a result, interest in recreating the music of top video games has helped to foster a resurgence in public interest. By incorporating pop culture connected to video games, orchestras can stay afloat by appealing to younger audiences, and the impact of video games on the renewed popularity of classical music cannot be overstated.
In addition to driving digital sales and highlighting the importance of musical scores, the music used in video games also provides opportunities to collaborate with renowned composers and other musicians in order to create some of the most amazing video game music ever produced. For example, the London Symphony Orchestra collaborated in the production of The Legend of Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses video game score, in addition to the forthcoming Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions.
A well-thought-out video game music score can engage gamers, and some have remarked that a compelling video game score will keep them interested in the game long after the novelty has worn off. A great musical score on a video game can take an average game and turn it into a superior game that undoubtedly earns new fans.
Music in the Final Fantasy Franchise
One of the most widely discussed video games in terms of musical scores is the Final Fantasy series. The Final Fantasy video games involve role playing and the best-selling video game series of all time. Alongside stunning visuals and interesting storylines, developers focused their attention on musical scores that are virtually unparalleled in the gaming industry. In many versions of Final Fantasy, music plays a central role in creating the overall gaming experience, and this has not gone unnoticed by music professionals. The music in in the Final Fantasy game series is intended to accompany the varied plots and mirrors the characters’ emotions.
One of the most profound music scores in the Final Fantasy series was seen in Final Fantasy VII’s One Winged Angel, which earned critical acclaim not only for the game itself, but for the associated musical score, which has been described as modern-day. This attention to detail when creating video games could explain how these games have maintained longevity beginning in the ‘90s all the way to the present. The music in Final Fantasy has been come so popular that even classical musicians have begun to hold video game-themed concerts such as the Final Symphony and Nintendo Music Celebration, which hosted its first-ever video game music concert in Japan in 2003.
The Final Fantasy video game series set the stage for a variety of other video games to follow suit. From Bioshock to Halo, video game music has generally become much more sophisticated. Aside from the fact that musicians perform video game scores more often now, once these video games are released, they often include chart-topping songs. Final Fantasy achieved this in 2016 when its soundtrack reached number 17 on the Classic FM Hall of Fame list.
EarthBound Offers Notable Music Selections
Another popular video game with notable music selections is EarthBound. While the game features a prominent Nintendo character, critics were more impressed with the musical score. The score on EarthBound has been described by some as a masterpiece, even though this game was made over 20 years ago, when video game music scores did not receive the respect that they have since then.
Music is integrated in nearly every aspect of the game, which itself has been described as exhilarating, thought-provoking, and mysterious. EarthBound was a formidable game in the market, yet its music is what sets it apart from the others. Despite the critical acclaim that it gained for its musical score, EarthBound received very little publicity and it’s possible that critics at the time did not fully understand the brilliance of the musical score.
Although video game music scores have not earned widespread respect, there has been a great deal of progress. One of the major benefits of including music in video games is that it can help to facilitate a connection between the gaming world and appreciation for various music genres. Music enthusiasts tend to be well-rounded individuals, and those who enjoy gaming will particularly understand that the experience can be augmented by a powerful musical score.
The benefits of music have been stated time and time again, and it seems that researchers are uncovering new information all the time. Basic academic skills such as reading comprehension have been extensively studied by researchers with a focus on how they can be improved through music participation. One of the main reasons why music and reading skills are so intertwined is the type of brain activity that is needed to accomplish both tasks. Reading and playing music both require a great deal of focus and precision.
One particular study followed music students to determine how much their reading skills would improve over the course of a year. At the end of the study, it was determined that the reading scores of the 9- and 10-year-old students remained consistent. On the contrary, students who did not participate in music instruction did not see the same kind of improvement. Instead, a decline in overall scores was observed.
Auditory Perception and Other Neural Processes
The process of learning to read and to play a musical instrument share similarities. One of the shared requirements of learning to read and to play music is auditory perception. In essence, auditory perception is the way in which we hear things in order for the brain to properly interpret the sounds. Research studies have shown that learning music inevitably improves one’s auditory skills, thus helping to improve reading skills. Additionally, there are other connections between auditory perception skills and changes in the brain that help to facilitate learning.
Researchers have concluded that music instruction can initiate changes in the nervous system that facilitate learning. According to a researcher at Northwestern University, after hundreds of high school students in Los Angeles and Chicago public schools were studied, it was determined that learning music vastly improved their memory and overall focus. The results were attributed to improved neural function. At the conclusion of the study, it was noted that those children who participated in at least five hours per week of music lessons did not see any decline in reading levels. This research on auditory perception and its relationship to reading scores was presented to the American Psychological Association for further review.
In line with what the aforementioned studies found, other research has examined how music impacts brainwaves and other psychological processes. Children who see a note on paper are taught to recognize and interpret what they are seeing, much like what is involved in reading words. By taking music lessons, students continuously reinforce these connections, and the brain learns to easily recognize and interpret various forms of information with greater efficiency.
Brainwaves were measured by tests that gathered data, then converted it into a phonological awareness score. The phonological awareness score showed a small, yet statistically significant difference in scores between those students who undertook formal musical instruction versus those who did not. The results indicated that not only are music students able to pick up on reading faster, but they also develop a faster response to sounds and have a better ability to distinguish between sounds.
Improvements in Writing
Reading ability is not only positively influenced by music instruction, but writing skills have also shown improvement, as well. Since writing and music both require some level of introspection, it is easy to see how these two are related. Not only has music instruction been shown to improve academic writing skills, but it also has a profound effect on a student’s ability to write music.
The complementary effect has been demonstrated through music writing activities, which include at least 10 minutes dedicated to relaxation so that students are able to tap into their creative side. Activities such as writing music help students to develop storylines and learn how to present them to others. Whatever feelings or emotions that students have during the activity are shared in song, and this can be especially beneficial to those who have been bullied (either in or out of school) and can help them to effectively deal with negative emotions.
Data Is Promising
While researchers admit that there is no definitive connection between music and reading skills, the data so far provides clues on how brain function relates to music and how this impacts reading proficiency. Researchers urge that caution should be used when stating that music heavily influences literacy, since more in-classroom studies need to be conducted before a definitive conclusion can be made.
Despite the fact that the research is still in the preliminary stages, the data so far is promising. The causal link between music instruction and better reading skills is yet another reason to get children involved in music as early as possible. Educators may also benefit from exploring the connection between the two.
Although technology has played a role in the American education system for quite some time, music programs in particular have been slow to integrate it into the classroom. In addition to the usual resistance to funding the arts, this delay is often due in part to the physical layout of the typical music classroom, where crowded students typically have little-to-no desk space, thus making the use of electronic keyboards highly impractical.
Despite these challenges, most music educators believe in the value of educational technology. In a 2013 PBS survey, teachers reported that technology increased their students’ desire to learn and reinforced and built upon previous classwork.
Additionally, using modern technological tools in the music classroom can free up some of a teacher's limited instructional time by making routine tasks faster and easier. It can also improve communication between students and teachers, as well as between teachers and parents.
The following are two ways that music teachers can add technology to their classrooms to augment the learning process:
Mobile Devices for Sheet Music
Of all the technological advances used in the classroom, the tablet is arguably the most popular. One of the best uses of the tablet in a musical classroom setting is as a replacement or substitute for paper sheets of music. Instead of dealing with multiple pages of sheet music, students can access all of their materials on this device with just a few taps. Using a tablet for this purpose eliminates the huge problem of students losing their music, thereby removing a major source of frustration for teachers. In addition, students can use tablets to compose songs, access apps, and view study materials and test scores. And best of all, the average tablet doesn’t take up much size and is easy to carry and store, unlike electronic keyboards.
One app that music teachers heartily endorse is Piano Street, which gives kids access to over 3,000 classical piano study scores and more than 20,000 pages of sheet music. It also offers practice guides, an audio-video study tool, a music dictionary, and a forum, in which students can read about a wide variety of piano-related topics. Other popular technology options for the music classroom that work well with tablets include Garage Band, Ear trainer, and real piano pro.
Another great way to include technology in the music classroom is through a digital, or “interactive,” whiteboard. These interactive devices allow teachers to share information on a user-friendly screen that is much more sophisticated than an old fashioned chalk board or dry-erase board.
Interactive whiteboards combine touchscreen technology with a projector connected to a PC or laptop, so any information or documents stored on the computer can be easily displayed on the board for all the students to see. Students can share ideas and explore concepts by physically interacting with the objects on the screen, and teachers can even enhance the interactive whiteboard experience with special pens and erasers. Many instructors also use interactive whiteboards to play instructional videos.
Teachers can use interactive whiteboards to introduce new vocabulary words, demonstrate rhythm and tone, instruct students in musical notation, and more. To really engage students, teachers can have their class use this technology to create and play their own original compositions. For inspiration, there are numerous online resources available, including lesson files and templates developed by other music teachers.
Undeniably, technology has infiltrated nearly every part of our lives, and it is rapidly changing the way we learn. Music instructors must not only have the desire to bring technology into the classroom, they should also be willing to familiarize themselves with the latest technology and figure out how to best implement it. Children are comfortable using technology in other areas of their lives, and most will adapt very easily to technology in the music classroom. Therefore, teachers don’t need to worry about their students struggling to overcome a steep learning curve.
Music teachers might have to explain to administrators how implementing technology in music classrooms can benefit the school as a whole. To ensure that all students in the class have access to technology, teachers, administrators, and parent groups can work together to find grants and donors, or hold fundraising events.