November 8, 2001
8:28 AM   Subscribe

Music lessons can improve spatial reasoning in kids. Did you take music lessons as a child? Did you stick with it? Why/why not? Any regrets? Anyone take up an instrument as an adult? How much does my sister weigh?
posted by luser (38 comments total)
the last question is extra credit
posted by luser at 8:29 AM on November 8, 2001

I played the trumpet and royally sucked at it. The only two songs I could ever play with any competence whatsoever were:
1. Taps
2. Eye of the Tiger

But, one day, I am going to learn how to play both the guitar AND the piano. This is my goal.
posted by ColdChef at 8:35 AM on November 8, 2001

...and your sister is nice. Doesn't sweat much for a fat girl*
*this is the punchline for a joke that I refuse to tell...

posted by ColdChef at 8:36 AM on November 8, 2001

I played piano four years when I was in elementary school, and then gave it up when my instructor told me I sucked.

I played trombone for seven years in middle & high school and was very good, but gave it up when I went to college.

Just last year, I got an electric piano and a guitar and have been teaching myself to play. I'm gonna be a rock star.
posted by TacoConsumer at 8:40 AM on November 8, 2001

Taco, I wanna be in your band. I can play the tamborine.
posted by ColdChef at 8:46 AM on November 8, 2001

alas, musical skills did not come very easy to me as a kid, and I didn't stick with any musical endeavor. I have mixed feelings about it; I think if I'd learned a bit more about music I'd have a better understanding of some of the music I listen to.

(Btw, there's a cool nonprofit I've done some volunteer work for -- LittleKidsRock, it's called -- that gives free music lessons and instruments to elementary school kids, in the SF Bay area and now in NYC and New Jersey (starting this year). They teach kids whatever they want to learn, i.e., popular music, not just the classical-type stuff kids so often get turned off by.... Pretty cool stuff.)
posted by mattpfeff at 8:51 AM on November 8, 2001

Or did you learn as an adult? If so, wanna be dismissed?
(vague self-link, in that I hassled the poster so much he included a comment putting me down).
posted by andrew cooke at 8:54 AM on November 8, 2001

I messed around with my sister's guitar until I was 14, then learned flute in a marching band, then string and electric bass in high school. I continue to play, for a while at gigs, no longer. I'm learning chromatic harmonica now.

I think it's worth it to expose kids to instruments, but not force them. If they can't play well, they can't enjoy themselves, it becomes an exercise in self-torture (and torture of others). And regardless of whether they end up playing or not, they should continue to be exposed to music. And not just conventional classical music but modern music as well.

There's a math/music connection. Music helps in other ways, too: for example music therapy.
posted by mmarcos at 8:55 AM on November 8, 2001

played sax & piano as a kid. picked up bass & guitar in high school. (bass moreso, mainly because 'chicks dig the low notes') played in bands until I had to sell off the equipment in order to eat in college(ok it was 6th year as an undergrad... so?).
posted by tj at 8:57 AM on November 8, 2001

Always wanted to learn the piano, but I knew that my short stubby fingers would prevent me from getting really good. If I can't really excell at something, I would rather not do it.
posted by Witold at 9:08 AM on November 8, 2001

I was never really interested in playing. My dad played a guitar, so, I was rather turned off. I do listen to a lot of music though. When I was in elementary school my math teacher played some classical music before a test. She told us to put our heads down and just listen. I'm not sure why classical, but she explained there's a something about an effect that makes you smarter. Is there?

As music goes, I never really understood the thing with rock, or guitars in general. Except perhaps acoustic or the 60's long solos or such.
posted by tiaka at 9:10 AM on November 8, 2001

Witold, short stubby fingers are not an impediment to good piano playing; do not let that idea stop you. The impediments are a combination of not having a good enough ear, not practicing, etc. The same goes for a lot of different instruments. I have one friend who lost his right hand in an accident as a child. He plays the drums and quite well.
posted by mmarcos at 9:18 AM on November 8, 2001

I mastered the violin and piano at age nine, and was hailed as a musical prodigy. Went to study in Vienna, but got burned out after a couple years of that and just sort of left the academy. Parents were disappointed. Came back to the states, found a promoter, played a couple of gigs (Carnegie Hall, White House) before I got tired of the whole classical thing. So, I bought myself a six-string, played that for a few years, then started my own experimental guitar-driven rock band, which didn't last long due to my childish ego. Won a Grammy in '93.

I mean, I could go on, of course, but I'd like to save the good stuff for my Behind the Music.
posted by Hildago at 9:30 AM on November 8, 2001

He plays the drums and quite well.

you're friends with def leppard??

i'm SORRY! i had to say it!

anyway, i learned to play the clarinet, baby.
and then i gave it up. i'd like to play the piano, eventually. perhaps the violin.

i make a lot of plans for spending my time as a trophy wife.
posted by sugarfish at 9:45 AM on November 8, 2001

I played violin for a time in 5th & 6th grade but I really sucked. My father played guitar and sang a bit of folk music, but that never inspired me to play much. Then my buddy Scott got a guitar in 8th grade and I got a little interested, especially when he started hanging around with the cool Punk kids. My best friend Brian also had been playing guitar for a while and was/is actually pretty good at it.

So, around 9th grade, I started playing as well. 10th grade I joined Jazz band, not because I was any good but because my friends were in it. Those were some good times, the teach would send the rhythm section into Practice Room C and we'd jam out whatever we could play back then. ZZ-Top, Scorpions, Van Halen.

I still sucked though, I'm the classic 'white boy that can't dance', no internal sense of rhythm. I learned about music, aside from Joy Hawkins, the cute piano player, I knew the most about music theory and suck. And I stuck at it, kept dinking on the guitar, did sound for my buddy's bands, took lessons for a while (that really helped).

I just don't have that natural talent for music that some people have. I've seen people pick up an instrument and within a couple of years be quite good at it. But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy music.

Oh, and I do have a pretty good sense of spatial relationships.
posted by mutagen at 9:46 AM on November 8, 2001

Lessee...I started out playing violin in first grade (rah, rah Suzuki!), then switched over to flute, then clarinet (I sucked at that one...a year of squeaking), then drums. I stuck with that for a good long time, from fifth grade up until college. We had a kickass drumline in high school.

I play drums for a friend's belly dancing troupe every now and then. I'm waiting until work calms down so I can start taking piano lessons; ever since a friend dropped an Oscar Peterson CD in my lap, I wanted to start.
posted by RakDaddy at 10:01 AM on November 8, 2001

My first formal introduction to an instrument beyond the recorder was the first 8th grade music class in my new school. My intro to the music teacher. "Hi my name is melissa and I don't play an instrument. But I can read music". She gave a flute to play. That lasted about a week, and I switched to clarinet which I liked much better (easier to play), I had a couple friends teach me some basic fingering, but after that I was on my own.

In high school, I switched to the bass clarinet (I had trouble with the higher notes on the reg. clarinet). I absolutely loved it. I joined the band and played bass clarinet for a couple years.

When we did "The Wiz" (of Oz) for our school musical in tenth grade, the music teacher said they needed two people to play the "toys". Which were all the percussion instruments, and as I called it "bells and whistles" (although there actually were no whistles). I never learned formally, but learned to rattle, ring, crash, boom and chime when necessary. I then switched to percussion in the regular band.

After two years of that I switched back to the bass clarinet in the regular band cuz the percussion section was getting rather large, and they needed someone to play the bass clarinet. I continued to play percussion in the jazz band, which had started around my fourth year of high school (Ontario still had five years at this time.)

Oh yeah, and I took piano lessons for three years starting at age 14. And I learned guitar from a combination of teaching myself and a guitar class in high school (easiest course I ever took). Had a bass for awhile, but no amp so it didn't go far.

I don't play anything right now. I still have my acoustic, but I play very rarely. I play piano whenever I go to my mom's house. I miss the other instruments a lot.

I've always promised myself that when I'm rich (!!!) I would support my high school's music program via a bursary or something at graduation, just to say thank you for what it's done for me. I also want to have my own music room with all the instruments I've played and a few that I don't (regular drumkit, bass, tenor sax) Let's hope I get real rich, real quick. :)
posted by melissa at 10:12 AM on November 8, 2001

?|?d learning piano from my mother at the age of 6, just as she had learned from her mother starting at age 6. Music runs in my family. (My grandmother was a concert pianist and teacher for many years; five major symphonies in the U.S. have her former students in their ranks.) I continued with lessons, albeit occasionally sporadically, for some 7 years. I now play only marginally because I didn't keep up with practicing, but with my own kids wanting to have music in their lives (and a daughter who just turned 6 and should, by rights, start having lessons from me) I'm playing more now than ever.

In college, I started taking guitar lessons, but after two years, I still hadn't managed to string together chords in any pleasing way, because my teacher was not very skilled at fingering pedagogy. Once again, everything I know now I taught myself, and my best friend has promised that we'll start playing together (she's entirely self-taught and excellent) to improve our skills if and when we live in the same city again.

My real musical talents lie in singing and songwriting. My music theory isn't bad, so I'm not particularly anxious to become a master of any particular instrument. I do well enough. I'm a hobbyist, after all. But spacial relations? Sucky, sucky, sucky. The only area on those cranky acheivement/assesstment tests in which I could never crack the 90th percentile.
posted by Dreama at 10:23 AM on November 8, 2001

Ooh, that was strange. That first line should read "I started learning piano." I have no idea what just happened.
posted by Dreama at 10:24 AM on November 8, 2001

Wow. It's cool to see some similarities among the stories. I personally started playing violin at 5 (yes the Suzuki method, which I disliked at the time but really appreciate now). Was concertmaster and all that through highschool and youth symphonies in Tampa. Started playing bass guitar in seventh grade, played in a few pop-punk bands in highschool, a few varied bands in college from metal to blues to hip hop. Haven't played in a serious thing for more than a few months in a long time.

As for the initial post, I believe that starting kids early into music, and reinforcing the promising one's talents, definitely gives them a unique perspective on life, not just spatial perception. Studies have shown that playing music stimulates growth and complexity of neurons in the young, and postpones neuronal decay in the old (I almost went to grad school in cognitive psychology). Basically, it's a mental exercise effect, similar to doing crossword puzzles or other mental challenges.
posted by skechada at 10:35 AM on November 8, 2001

I took piano lessons from about age 7 until high school. I had average technique but I was quite good at picking up a tune, recognizing chords: "playing by ear".

I remember having to demonstrate several times, to a piano player more technically talented than me, the five notes from "Close Encounters." He had the hardest time picking it up by ear, but given the sheet music and a chance to practice, I think he would have been fine.

I played trombone in high school, symphonic and jazz band, and got good enough to join the All-State and All-New England bands. It was intimidating but still rewarding to be in a group where every last person was just as good or better than me. A constant little voice in the back of my head: "Don't screw up..."

In college, I played electronic keyboard in a cover band, playing for frat parties. The ability to pick up a tune, improvise, and figure out how to round out the band's sound in realtime really helped.

Now I'm composing (keyboard/sequencer/Mac) just for fun. Would love to jam with a band, but except for a few occasions I haven't found compatible people in terms of free time, etc. It's much harder for me to write lyrics than music, unless the lyrics are clever and gimmicky a la TMBG. Also, it seems like keyboard players and guitar players come up with different chords and sounds, and I may need to learn guitar to get some new ideas.

Does music help with math, or vice versa? Probably. I love music, and I like numbers. I have a feeling many road geeks (self-link would go here) are also number geeks from the route numbers.

By the time our kids are born (still trying, but that's another topic) we will have a piano in the house, so you can just walk up and start playing without having to boot up and connect cables. I hope I can show them how fun music is without forcing it on them.

When I'm rich... big house with soundproof studio and practice room... and a large room, good acoustics, with a real pipe organ. I can sit there and play Tocatta in D Minor in the dark. Buwahahahahaha...
posted by kurumi at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2001

Interesting essay. I hope someone does some research on the subject. I fear it will turn out to be like the "play Beethoven to babies and they grow up smarter" thing, which sold a lot of brightly coloured CDs and did basically nothing else. I also fear that, if this idea becomes common belief, parents will force their kids into music lessons not because they have any particular joy in the creation of music but in order to improve their SAT scores or some such pathetic reason.

I learned my first instrument (the recorder) at age 9. My family inherited a piano a few years later and I started to learn that, too. It was a natural fit and I ended up playing and composing music for fun, beyond designated practice-time. I broadened my woodwind base to include the clarinet, which I found difficult and confusing, and then of course the saxophone, which had been my goal from the beginning. In college I was quite good at the piano and passable on the saxophone, and spent a little while in a sort of gothic jazz-rock trio.

And then I was done with college and off in the world, moving around constantly, and I had to put my saxophone in storage. Buying or paying to move a piano was completely out of the question. So I haven't played a thing on any instrument for years.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I decided that enough was enough and that it was time to play the piano again. I bought myself a nice little upright, pushed it into the only available space in my studio apartment, bought a practice book, and tried it out. To my great surprise, I don't completely suck. It's a lot of fun. In a couple years I think I may even be back up to the point where I left off. I'm happy.

kurumi: that must be nice. I've never known even how to begin trying to play by ear. It made playing in a band sort of tough sometimes.

posted by Mars Saxman at 11:40 AM on November 8, 2001

Rah rah for Suzuki is right :). Learned piano and violin starting at age eight and kept piano going through college (and beyond). Lots of competitions and theory tests ('identify the chord played...' ack.) Similar experience with flute, though the most enjoyable part of playing was marching band (in the tradition of TBDBITL, of course.) Also, picked up french horn in high school and harpsichord in college. I can't believe I'm still alive after all that ;)

Though small hands (which, I unfortunately have) can render playing many instruments more difficult, there is still plenty of repetoire out there. My only regret is that most Rachmaninoff is physically out of the question for me.
posted by shinyj at 11:57 AM on November 8, 2001

Interesting synchronicity between this thread and the one following.
posted by BT at 12:45 PM on November 8, 2001

i played cornet from the time i was 7 until i graduated from high school. around age 12, observing the reaction to the beatles and not being a complete idiot, i took up guitar. without belaboring the point, i was good at it, and i've had tons of fun playing in bands over the years. i've not played much in 15 years now, so my endurance and chops are in poor shape, but GOD i love music. um, spatial reasoning? where AM i?
posted by quonsar at 1:18 PM on November 8, 2001

My mom made me start piano lessons when I was six or seven. Hated it. Quit when I was fifteen. I started again during college, loved it, have been playing ever since.
posted by gyc at 1:22 PM on November 8, 2001

BT, indeed, this thread triggered me to put up the Langley Project post.
posted by mmarcos at 1:23 PM on November 8, 2001

My earliest musical memories are of my sister's Elvis and other 50's rock 'n roll records. Her love of music rubbed off on me.

Played cornet (similar to trumpet) in the school band in grade school. I think I may have reached the semi-half-assed-decent level. Maybe.

Got my first guitar in 7th grade, inspired by Beatles and other bands of the era, took lessons, hated them, started messing around with it on my own. Began my career with a band that played at the 8th grade variety show (featuring "Hey Joe"). Played bass parts on my guitar.

Soon got my first bass, played in bands through high school and after, and began to realize that I was actually pretty good. Got into jazz, got a music degree, etc.

Having no skill at self-promotion (or, being too introverted), I never really cut it as a full-time musician. As I got older, economic pressure indicated the need for a "real job", and went back to school and got a compsci degree. So, I now write code for a living. I can't tell you exactly why, but it seems to me that coding and playing are very similar processes, neurologically.

I do miss playing, wouldn't mind finding the right part-time situation. But free time is scarce, my son is 4 and he's my #1 priority. Maybe when he's a little older, I'll teach him the bass part to Hey Joe...

(sorry, this ran kind of long...)
posted by groundhog at 2:05 PM on November 8, 2001

Recorder in 3rd grade - the only guy, and I was really good. Folks took me to the local PCYC band, where I was handed a cornet. I was really good. They gave me a soprano cornet. I was really good. The local youth orchestra needed a French horn player, and because 'the mouthpiece is funny' and 'the fingering is different', guess who got it? 'But I wanna play cornet.' 'No cornet for you!'

Nobody wants to jam with a French horn player. I hung out at daggy orchestra functions whilke my friends sat around the house and taught themselves to bar chord on cheap guitars with cheaper amps. Bastards. I'd trade 'Swan Lake' for bad Nirvana any day. Now I'm one of those sad late-twenty-somethings with a guitar in the corner of the room. 'Can you play it?' 'One day.'

As for music lessons improving spatial reasoning - not for me. If spatial reasoning has anything to do with sense of direction, Lego or Rubik's Cubes, I'm a complete spaz.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:06 PM on November 8, 2001

My guitar playing father has a pretty extensive career, but my musical exposure was limited to some piano lessons (the "gateway" instrument) that was quickly cast aside for swimming and cartoons. I have no musical ability of any sort...
posted by owillis at 4:30 PM on November 8, 2001

Ah, french horn is a gorgeous instrument. obiwanwasabi, you might want to check out Sharon Freeman who has played with Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra on two of their recordings. Jazz improv on french horn, mmm. She gave a few classes at JazzMobile in NY when I attended, great musician and human being.
posted by mmarcos at 5:04 PM on November 8, 2001

groundhog, the 'hey joe' reference really kicked off some dusty memories! 'gloria'. 'little black egg'. i remember when all i ever wanted to do was master that killer lick in 'secret agent man'! hahaha! :-)
posted by quonsar at 5:11 PM on November 8, 2001

I didn't take lessons or study music as a child, other than learning what the lines and spaces of the staff meant. As I'm writing this, I remember my mother saying that when I was a child, she always knew when I was awake in the mornings because I'd be humming. I did start piano lessons my first year in college, at age 18. I absolutely loved it and couldn't get enough of it! After a year and a half of study, where I had made rapid progress, I auditioned for a music program at a school in southern California and was accepted. There, I took my first harpsichord lessons and was hooked. I went on to get a BFA in Music/harpsichord performance, an MM at the SF Conservatory of Music, and I'm currently doing my DMA at SUNY Stony Brook. Prior to this I worked a day job in Berkeley for almost 5 years and performed in the Bay Area throughout that time. I am overjoyed to be back doing music full time and pursuing my doctorate. I think my situation is an unusual one, having started music so late, and from time to time wonder what would have happened if I had been able to study piano when I was a child. Perhaps I would have burned out, who knows. The harpsichord is an awesome instrument. I love it.
posted by doublehelix at 6:53 PM on November 8, 2001

I did take piano lessons as a child. And my mom always did say I was spatial.
posted by kindall at 11:54 PM on November 8, 2001

Lucky you for having the opportunity to play one, doublehelix! I've always liked what Tori Amos did with a harpsichord on Boys for Pele. I can't imagine where I'd ever find one to play.

posted by Mars Saxman at 8:30 AM on November 9, 2001

I've always liked what Tori Amos did with a harpsichord on Boys for Pele. I can't imagine where I'd ever find one to play.

and i've always loved the result whenever rick wakeman got within range of one, but i'm a pushover for anything Yes.
posted by quonsar at 9:42 AM on November 9, 2001

Oooh. I can't listen to Yes anymore without cringing a bit or getting goosebumps but I can easily listen to anything by Bill BruĆ’ord. Bruford is the most interesting and versatile of all the Yes Sirs.
posted by mmarcos at 10:57 AM on November 9, 2001

I learned to play Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James and such sort of songs from tablature when I was in my some point the light bulb went on and I got lost in it, learned slide. I still play the same old stuff plus what I've picked up since. Something like Blind Willie Johnson's Dark Was The Night (Cold Was the Ground)--there's tab for it but nothing but practice and listening and practice and then after an hour of warm up, you sound like Ry Cooder, which is not at all what I had in mind...but then there is that whole dimension of Johnson's voice, which is beyond mortal man. And even Ry Cooder said it took him an hour to get to the outskirts of the neighborhood of it on the guitar... And he made a career out of that one song. Or rather his take on it--it is one of the most sublime pieces of music ever captured.

Oh, and I took a job aptitude test years ago from a guidance counselor friend, back in herb friendly times--I finished and aced the spatial relationships test, both a first in her experience... So, yes, I think there is something to your link.
posted by y2karl at 9:56 PM on November 9, 2001

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