It has taken me years to come to grips with this, but I think I am finally ready to admit it and begin the healing process—I was a victim of involuntary music lessons. Yes, that’s right, my mean, unbending parents forced me (against my will) to learn the essential life skills of self-discipline, concentration, and stick-to-it-iveness.  I also regret to report that these skills have molded me into a productive, well-rounded, and educated member of society. If only my parents would have caved in and let me abandon lessons on multiple occasions, maybe my wretched life would have been different.    Cont…

I have to admit— my perspective of my parent’s stubborn persistence is completely different now from when I had to sit reluctantly practicing Hanon scales at 6:30 in the morning.  Now, I wish someone would ‘force’ me to go learn and practice, knowing what ‘involuntary music lessons’ has done for my life.

Let me start off by clearly stating that I am not advocating an over-the-top forcing of children when it comes to music lessons.  Remember the poor young Beethoven being dragged out of bed at 3 am by a drunken father and his friends to practice the piano?  That certainly doesn’t build bridges between a parent and child; but, I do think my generation (those raising children now) has gotten pretty soft when it comes to having kids pursue something good that they don’t want to do. I was raised by parents who instilled in their children the value of music. Mom had taken piano growing up but quit before she had really developed the skill and regretted it as she got older.  She knew that music training not only taught us a specific skill, but knew we were developing lifelong character traits  in the process. Each of their six children started the piano around second grade and were required to stick with it until they could play most songs from the church hymnal. After that point, we could continue taking lessons of our own volition or stop without mom and dad breathing down our necks.  Most of us continued to take lessons because we gained a love for music and the skill we had acquired. In fact, once we had taken piano for two years we were allowed to start a second instrument if we desired.  Five of the six of us immediately picked up a second instrument as soon as we were allowed and benefitted from the basics we learned first from the piano. So what would I say are the top traits acquired from involuntary music lessons? Here are my top 5:

1.       Discipline

Worthwhile, beautiful things take time and practice.  You have to make a lot of mistakes, study, fail, and try again and again.  Your muscles will ache, your brain will be fuzzy sometimes, and you may loathe looking at that instrument at points, but the spirit that’s inside you says, “Don’t give up.  You have the strength for this.”  Think of military personnel.  They have incredible discipline and can stand at attention as long as the general requires, or brave extreme situations because they know their leaders are trying to prepare them for the worst possible scenarios so, if at all possible, they can come out of danger alive.  Piano practice won’t protect you from a grenade, but it will teach you that discipline has multiple rewards (including the monetary type) and opens many doors in life.

 2.       Stick-to-it-iveness

From drive thru food to the Internet, we seem to live in an instant gratification society. Music lessons are not that way. Much like losing weight, gaining an education or learning a new language, it takes time (many times months and years) and you’ve got to exert a lot of physical or mental energy to realize your end goal. There’s also an element of consistency that can’t be overlooked. You can’t cram 6 months of practice into a 15 minute Cliff Note and play like Mozart. It is the daily practice that inches you closer and closer to your goal.

3.       Concentration

Imagine taking an ACT or SAT when you have never studied.  You never liked to study–you don’t know how.  You hate sitting still and paying attention.  So, you get to the test day, and you fail.  There is so much to be said for the skill of being able to concentrate.  Children have wiggly bodies (some much more than others), and sitting on a chair or bench and doing something over and over can seem like the ultimate form of torture; but, as the body and mind grows, so does the ability to concentrate, if exercised regularly.

4.       We sometimes need to do things that aren’t our favorite

Much like eating our vegetables, sometimes we just need to do things that are good for us. Does it mean we can’t have the desserts of life to serve a life sentence on the piano bench? No, but it helps us live a life of commitment. I have had several conversations with my children when they’ve come to me and said that they wanted to quit baseball or a play. I’ve explained that they made a commitment to themselves and their team and that there are others that are counting on them. Most times I have found that the reason they want to quit is something about it is challenging or hard and instead of conquering the difficulty they think they’ll just quit.  If life was void of all gain and no pain, there would be no joy in the victory, no jubilation in reaching the peak, or reason for existence for that matter. My family’s motto has become, “We can do hard things” and has served us well.

5.       Important Skill in a dying field
Just as Princess Leia from Star Wars desperately called out, “Help me Obi Wan Kanobi, you’re my only hope”, so do our churches, communities and schools. They are all in tremendous need of musical skill. Music gives emotion and meaning to our worship, pride in our country, and spirit to our school events. Be a part of the legacy instead of part of the continued deterioration of this fine art.  Without music, life would be a mistake and lived in silence.

So join me in committing today to invigorate our classrooms, our churches, our communities and our homes with the joy of music through involuntary music lessons.  Our next generation will thank you!
For a more musical world,

Spencer Willis