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Pay the Piper
Why play a musical instrument?
In a way, you don't need to consider
this. You either want to do it, or you don't. And if you WANT to do
it, you should. Lots of other people do, so why not you? However, you
may need to justify this decision to other people - to your parents,
who will be footing the bill, or to your school teachers who will
wonder why you should be allowing this "hobby" (as they see
it) to interfere with the really important things like Maths and
English, or to your friends who wonder why you can't come out to play
so often. So here are some things you can tell them ......
Music in our society
By becoming a musician you are joining in one of the most important
facets of modern society. Everyone listens to music of some sort for a
large part of their life. Some do so deliberately, others do it
passively (think of all the music you hear without even realising it,
in shops and so on) and most of us do it while enjoying other forms of
entertainment - few films and television programmes are made without
music as an important part of the action.
This means that music has become a major industry. Even twenty years
ago it was the biggest dollar-earner in the UK, and bigger than the
British steel industry in the days when Britain still had one!
By becoming a musician you are opening the door to your own
understanding and greater enjoyment of something that touches all our
lives every day.
A personal achievement
You will be acquiring a skill that will eventually bring you the
approval of your parents, teachers and friends (and if it doesn't, you
must have very sad parents, teachers and friends!). But, more
importantly, there is immense personal satisfaction to be gained from
attempting something slow and difficult - and, make no mistake, it
will be both slow and difficult - and making a success of it. Think of
the pride you will and should feel when you are able to play your
first tune, or make it into the school orchestra or band for the first
time. Imagine the audience clapping you at your first school concert!
And later on, your local youth orchestra, band or jazz group will give
you new and exciting opportunities - truly something worth aiming for.
And this is something that will be all your own. Nobody else can do
it for you. No matter how encouraging your parents are, no matter how
good your teacher is, this is something you have to do for yourself.
And once you have made a success of it, you will be entitled to all
A lasting pleasure
Music will stay with you all your life. You will never lose the
skills you learn (they'll get a bit rusty if you don't use them, but
they'll come back when needed - like riding a bike, you never really
And you don't even have to be very good at it. No matter how lowly
your achievement, you will always find opportunities if you want them.
There are lots of amateur groups all over the country always looking
for members. Some are very fine amateur orchestras or choral societies
that can perform the same music as professionals, while others are
strictly "fun" groups who aim much lower. If you look hard
enough, you'll find something to suit you.
And you don't have to be with others, either. Many people get great
pleasure from simply playing by themselves at home. These days you can
buy pieces of music accompanied by a CD so that you can play along.
You get all the pleasure of playing with others without stepping
outside your own front door.
The social side
One part of being a musician that brings great pleasure to many young
people is the "social" aspect of music-making. To meet and
work with other people of your own age and with similar tastes is
always enjoyable. It's like belonging to a youth club, only better
because working on a common task - like preparing a concert or a show,
undertaking a concert-tour or entering a competition - brings you all
together so much more.
We have worked with young musicians in bands, choirs and orchestras
for many years now, and have been able to observe the many firm and
lasting friendships that are formed through these common experiences.
We think this is one of the most important benefits for young people.
For this reason on the "Instruments" pages we have made a
point of telling you what opportunities each instrument offers for
Becoming a professional musician
One very bad reason for taking up a musical instrument is in the
expectation that you will be able to make any money at it. True, a few
outstanding players do get quite rich, and slightly more are at least
able to make a living. Still more are able to make it a sideline to
their regular jobs by playing in amateur dance-bands, jazz-bands,
orchestras or rock groups. But the number of people who are able to do
any of these is quite small.
We have been associated for the last twelve years with a major county
youth orchestra - each year the hundred-or-so best young musicians
from the whole of a large shire county are selected for membership,
and perform in concerts, competitions, festivals and tours all over
Europe. Of all the hundreds of fine young musicians that have passed
through the orchestra in that time, only a tiny number have made it
into the orchestral profession - perhaps one in a hundred. Maybe six
or seven in a hundred later make a living from music in an indirect
way, perhaps by becoming music teachers.
In the field of popular music much the same applies. There are
hundreds of amateur groups, many of them very good. Only a handful
ever make it as far as getting a recording contract, although many do
manage to make money on a "semi-professional" basis, playing
in pubs and clubs etc. So, if you are taking up an instrument with no
other aim than to become a professional, forget it.
That's not to say that you shouldn't consider the music profession if
you like it and become really good at it. Of course you should. But
it's not a good reason to start in the first place.
We'll finish this section with a bold statement. Many people will
disagree with this, and no doubt there are many exceptions but in our
opinion, in the field of classical music, if you haven't reached Grade
8 standard by the time you are 14 or 15 years old, you aren't likely
to be good enough to attempt to enter the music profession. There!
Music makes you clever!
Many young people take their instrumental tuition in school, and have
to miss "normal" lessons once in a while in order to do so.
Experience shows that in very few cases is their long-term progress in
the "normal" subjects badly affected. Partly this is because
pupils who take instrumental tuition tend to be intelligent and
well-motivated and have supportive parents, and of course these are
just the kind of pupils who do well in most subjects. The
self-discipline and organisational skills required to learn an
instrument (and it does take a lot of discipline and organisation to
remember when your lesson is each week, to remember to take your
instrument and music to school, to set aside time in each busy day to
practise, and to organise that practice time in a useful and
productive way) will help in every facet of your school life. By
taking up a musical instrument you are more likely to become a better
student, not a worse one.
But there is an even more important benefit. Although the idea is
still the subject of some debate, recent research in several different
countries has suggested that there are strong links between musical
experience and reading age, IQ, or the physical development of certain
parts of the brain. To put it crudely, many experts consider that "doing
music" makes you more intelligent!
In his book The Mozart Effect musician and educator Don
Campbell of the American Music Research Centre describes how French
research into the use of music with children with speech and
communication disorders revealed that Mozart's music in particular can
enhance time/spatial perception, and more recent research has
confirmed that Mozart's music has a beneficial effect on the
development of spatial intelligence. This year there has been
publicity about the increasingly-respectable idea of playing music to
In an excellent article (The Music Teacher, September 1998) Sally
Goddard Blythe of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology
described music as "one of life's earliest teachers",
and quoted studies from the University of London demonstrating a clear
relationship between musical experience and reading age (Barwick,
1990) and from the University of California showing that music lessons
had a beneficial effect on spatial reasoning (Rauscher and Shaw). She
concluded that music is "... a primary language; in its most
primitive form it is akin to sensory language. In its most highly
developed form it is pure art. To squeeze it from the curriculum or
sideline it so that only the most privileged or the most determined
receive musical training is short sighted and may ultimately
contribute to falling standards in both literacy and numeracy .......".
Mozart Effect" is a website containing interesting articles
and links on the effect of musical training on children's intelligence
and general education.