The Language of Music

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Children’s Musical Education Resonates into Adulthood, RGV Experts Say

We listen to hours of our favorite songs through our headphones or stream tunes through our car speakers. We raise the volume to songs that ignite emotions deep within ourselves because music is the one medium that can help us feel upbeat and pumped, channel our anger, or help heal a broken heart when listening to just the right song. Melodies emphasize emotions we sometimes wouldn’t be able to explain with just words because of the way they stir up emotions. We hold special songs near and dear to our hearts, and most people would agree that music plays a vital role in their lives.

While many enjoy listening to music, Rio Grande Valley music experts extol the benefits for children who learn to play music, as well. Immersing children in musical expression promotes lifelong value because it connects and promotes what is already ingrained inside of them, including helping them utilize the creative part of the brain and channeling their emotions.

“When children study music, it requires both sides of the brain — it’s both a creative, logical, and analytical activity,” said Debra Perez, owner and director of music education for Valley Keyboards in McAllen.As children get older, if that creativity muscle isn’t developed, it can get locked away inside of them and it’s hard for them to think outside of the box.”

That could have repercussions for kids down the road.

“The creativity muscle is where they learn how to express themselves,” Perez said. “Kids will learn to be creative in other aspects of school, including math and problem solving, and I think that’s definitely a benefit. If you push the art piece away, that side of the human being isn’t being fed.”

A 2017 Scientific American article agreed.

Learning to play a musical instrument relies on understanding concepts, such as fractions and ratios, that are important for mathematical achievement,” the article read.

In addition to children strengthening their creativity muscle, learning to play side by side with their peers in an ensemble helps them develop a respect for working conditions as they coordinate together, work with one another, and listen.

“We believe in teaching and working in small groups. Sometimes that’s children’s first experience working with other children their age and creating together,” Perez said. “They learn how to listen and work together and as they get older and become adults, these types of skills that they experience at a young age really can transfer into the workplace.”

David Rios, owner and instructor at Musicademy McAllen, says he believes in similar benefits and expanded his business of being a private music instructor 10 years ago to promote collaboration in group lessons.

“I wanted to create more opportunities for my students to interact with other students and learn the benefits of music in ensemble and playing with other people,” he said.

And while collaboration with peers is incredibly beneficial, both Perez and Rios said that learning to play an instrument and immersing a child in music helps with much more, including memory, coordination, self-discipline, focus and concentration, social skills, self-expression, and perseverance.

When children take time to practice an instrument and struggle to get it right the first time, it promotes a healthy way to tackle self-determination.

“Making mistakes is normal and you can’t succeed in something unless you make little mistakes or failures here and there. Being able to commit to something and fail from time to time and learn from it is part of the learning process,” Rios said. “It’s continual growth, continual goals, continued successes with failures throughout, and students really learn that in music.”

And through the continual successes and failures of life, pre-teens and teenagers are able to express the depths of their sentiments through the moldable medium of music. Music will help them channel their emotions in a safe and effective way.

“For teenagers and preteens, I guarantee you it’s a beautiful way for them to express their emotions as they go through those years,” Perez said. “If they are feeling bad, they can sit down and play loud and make a bunch of noise, or they can play something beautiful, something sad, or whatever is going on in their life. It’s just a real positive way for them to express themselves.”

Music sometimes expresses things that cannot be communicated with words alone, Rios said.

“It’s love and emotion and personal expression and empathy for others — a lot of these things that are really hard to put into words,” he said.

Sometimes, though, children might clamor to quit music lessons.

“Usually they quit because, concerning music in general, they maybe didn’t have the right teacher,” Rios said.

And connecting kids to the right instructor can be a task in of itself.

“I think it’s important to find teachers for children that are current and that understand children today,” Perez said.  

Rios added that some students choose not to keep learning to play past nervousness at recitals.

“It’s OK to be afraid at recitals — go ahead and do it afraid and if it doesn’t work out, it’s probably going to be fine,” he said. “Kids need to learn that nerves are part of life. The challenges of life never quit and we have to instill that in our kids, that they are good enough and all they have to do is put in the work and energy that is required to step up to the challenge — it’s worth it and you’re worth it.”

In other cases, some children may not enjoy the instrument they are learning to play.

Carlos Echavarria, a 21-year-old student at UTRGV — and drummer and private drum instructor of Carlos Echavarria Drums — said it took him four different tries to find the instrument he loved to play. At 13 years old, he was introduced to percussion, which he loves and continues to play and teach every day. Echavarria, a former student of Rios, says that music has positively shaped his life in huge ways.

“I fell in love with it. It was a way to escape the daily struggle and it gave me a sense of purpose,” Echavarria said. “If I wasn’t able to play music, I’d probably be out doing bad stuff and getting in trouble. It’s really put me on a good path and given me a good sense of belonging. It’s kind of saved my life, in that sense.”

Both Rios and Perez advocate the benefits of music for students as young as 4 years old and into adulthood because it shapes students in academic, social, and emotional ways that become indispensable traits and skills in adulthood.

“Music is something that brings people together. It’s a language. It’s a language that describes things that can’t be described in words,” Rios said. “When people do music together, they connect on a very spiritual level that’s hard or sometimes impossible to do in other areas.

“I think everybody should be singing everybody should be listening and appreciating. We’re in a very fast-paced world right now with phones, apps and games, social media, and I really believe music benefits you spiritually. It gives you a sense of peace and the ability to take on life. You’re more able to take on life when you’re able to disconnect for a moment and get engulfed in music for a while.”

For more information on music classes for students from 4 years old into adulthood, contact Valley Keyboards at (956) 686-4863 or Musicademy McAllen at (956) 266-1194. To enroll in private drum lessons, visit www.carlosechavarriadrums.com.