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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On the benefits of music lessons,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

? 'Alice,

I don't have answers on the subject of whether or not music lessons are a waste, but I have a certain amount of experience. When Richard was playing electric guitar in a garage band (He picked up guitar very quickly after eight years of viola playing), he grumbled, 'I wish we had somebody who could play the keyboard.' Then he stopped and said, 'Wait a minute. I studied piano for six years. I can play the keyboard.'

Then there's Matt who quit piano after five years of lessons and a huge amount of grumbling. About four years later, during his stint as drummer for a band, it occurred to him that two of the other members were very skilled pianists. So when they left for college, he arranged to take one kid's space with the local piano teacher. In the next month he made great leaps and was suddenly very good.

Anyway, last time I counted, I have hauled my five kids to thirty nine years of music lessons. I sure hope there's some benefit!

' Laura N
McLean, VA

Ask Alice

? 'Hi Alice,

I was amazed by the question about whether music lessons are worthwhile. I'm a doctor and playing violin in amateur quartets is one of the best ways I have to unwind. Had my parents not insisted on my having music lessons I honestly think I couldn't have managed with the stress. Reading is fine, and a lot of my friends are sporty (not me) but the combination of the physical and the emotional connection to the greats (Beethoven especially) is like nothing else.

If I was Obama, every kid in the country would have compulsory music lessons until university -- all they'd be able to choose would be the instrument. Result? Less crime, youth boredom, fewer gangs, a greater ability to concentrate, proof that hard works pays off and a different society. (As for orchestras and opera companies: they would boom!)
G F Henley, California

Ask Alice

Alice Dear Laura and G F,

Thanks for your feedback, which might convince my previous correspondent that music lessons are never a real waste, either of time OR money. Here's a few things I found out:

  1. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, eighty five percent of the Americans who do not play musical instruments wish that they could.
  2. Hearing just a few measures of Mozart's music can improve memory and boost learning abilities, according to a recent study at Stanford University in California. Researchers have discovered a molecular basis for the music's mental benefits. Classical music has been found to reduce a hormone known as cortisone that adds to stress. It is believed this style of music enhances relaxation by freeing the appropriate neurons in the brain.
  3. Music can help reduce both the sensation and distress of chronic pain and postoperative pain. It can even reduce chronic pain from a range of painful conditions, including osteoarthritis, disc problems and rheumatoid arthritis by up to 21% and depression by up to 25%, according to a paper in the latest (UK) Journal of Advanced Nursing.
  4. 'Relaxing' music can reduce high blood pressure! By playing recordings of relaxing music, people with high blood pressure can train themselves to lower their blood pressure -- and keep it low. According to research reported at the American Society of Hypertension meeting in New Orleans, just thirty minutes of classical, celtic or raga music every day works.
  5. Scientists believe that classical music can create a positive and profound emotional experience, which leads to secretion of immune-boosting hormones, which contribute to a reduction in the factors responsible for illness. Listening to music or singing can also decrease levels of stress-related hormone cortisol. (Higher levels of cortisol can apparently lead to a decreased immune response.)

So yes, Laura, and Dr Henley, you aren't just whistling in the wind. Keep on banging the drum for music lessons, and perhaps Obama -- once he's sorted out the Palestinian question, fixed Afghanistan, squelched Iran, staved off global warming, plugged the holes in America's health 'system' (no system to speak of, you want my opinion) as well as changed the opinion of the world about America (the only bit he's had time to do) -- will get down to it.

There is, after all, not more than a couple of miles from the White House, a perfect example: the fantastic D C Youth Orchestra program, which gives deprived kids free or cheap lessons in classical music, and boasts decades of tremendous success.


Copyright © 30 October 2009 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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