Is learning music the key to success?


Dear MotionWorks Family,

These dog days of summer might just be a bit much for Wisconsinites who value more temperate weather, but as we all know, these days are numbered. With all of my kids’ school supplies purchased and divided up by child and new school clothes selected and hidden away for later use, our summer is most certainly winding down.

These hot summer days makes me think back fondly to some of my very earliest memories of summertime that always make me chuckle. Since I was the baby of the family, I vividly recall at a young age all of the kids piling into our Olds 88 and going a mile or two to pick up one of our neighbor boys on our way to town for band lessons. Craig, the neighbor I recall so distinctly, would always pull a fresh pack of Big League Chew from his cornet case, and he was always kind enough to offer a big wad to my brother. Amusingly, both of these boys in 10 minutes would have to spit out the said Big League Chew to partake in their individual cornet lessons with our band director in our non-air-conditioned high school band room, but that didn’t prevent the same Big League Chew from coming out again and again, all summer long until weekly lessons were over.

While participation in summer band lessons were more fleeting for my brother Vince and his friend Craig, a few years later, my older sister began taking flute lessons, and a few years after that, myself taking trumpet lessons (minus the Big League Chew). My sister and I also took piano lessons in town from second grade until we graduated from high school.

Why the sudden focus on music? Last week you may have caught the article that came out stating med schools are actively seeking out students with musical backgrounds - their ideal candidate. It makes sense in our family, as my brother-in-law Chris is an accomplished pianist and orthopedic surgeon, and I still teach piano one night a week in our neighborhood.

My gut instinct was to assume the article would talk about the academic benefits of learning how to play an instrument or studying music. Things like the organization of facts, recognizing order and patterns that boost math skills, improved reading ability when one recognizes that symbols have meaning, etc. Maybe it would highlight the ability to learn how to work as a team in a musical ensemble, blending with other musicians creating melodies and harmonies to create stirring, award-winning performances. Or maybe even discuss the physical skills of playing piano or an instrument like finger dexterity, muscle endurance, and fine motor coordination.

Surprisingly though, the article talked more about the culture of music, and how it shapes the musician. The unrelenting desire for perfection. The careful patience of finding mistakes and fixing them to create a perfect composition or musical performance. The orderly repetitiveness of practice not just to get it done, but attentively pursuing corrections to get it right. The belief that good is never good enough, it can always be done better attitude that is prevalent in musical endeavors could and should be more readily applied to surgeries, even if one is continuously improving the same mundane surgical procedure over and over again.

The difficult subject matter studied in medical school relates to the difficulty of learning a new piece, challenging oneself, having a pencil in hand to aggressively attack new material were all reported by medical school students who had completed musical degrees in undergrad. The work ethic and self-dedication assimilated during the study of music and musical instruments are also invaluable traits that serve medical students and professionals well.

Why all the talk about the benefits of music even if one does not pursue a career in music? Kiddos are heading back to school in just a couple of weeks. Decisions will have to be made about what classes, extras, sports, dance, music, Boy Scouts, and other opportunities should be selected from the overwhelming smorgasbord of choices. While they all have pros and cons, with first-hand knowledge I can assure you that time spent in a structured musical endeavor, even if for only a couple of years, scores some significant long-term benefits for your child that last long after the lessons are over.

A few years ago my curiosity got the best of me as I scoured Facebook to see what my 40 former piano and trumpet students who I taught through my first six years of college had turned out to be. I was amazed but not surprised to see professional dancers, authors, artists, coaches, nurses, and many other careers which may have nothing to do with music, but likely still benefited from the creativity, orderliness, and discipline gained while studying music.

Best of luck to you and your kids and grandkids starting school at the end of the month or early next month. Here’s wishing a year full of learning, growing, maturing, and good, old fashioned fun!!

Creatively Yours,
Dr. Jill Murphy
Owner/Physical Therapist
MotionWorks Physical Therapy