“What good are you?”

This as well as the Vonnegut quote found on the Entrepreneur the Arts FB page.

A few years ago, I had to work often a man whose mental faculties were slipping, which meant that, most of the time,  he would speak “without a filter.”  He’d ask for something and when I couldn’t help him, he’d retort, “What good are you?”

His oft-used phrase came to mind today when reading an article about music, dance, and arts education for children. This article, titled “Stop Forcing Your Kids to Learn a Musical Instrument,” really just boils down to that phrase, “What good are you?”  Or, more apropos, “What good is music?”

Oppenheimer does not seem to believe that learning a musical instrument is helpful to the average child.  After all, many of them grow up to be non-music-playing adults.  So why waste the time with such “pointless” endeavors?

Learning how to play or sing does build self-confidence, and it teaches perseverance, as the author points out, but it also creates more neural pathways in the brain, much in the same way as learning a foreign language does.  This allows for greater brain elasticity later in life, which is a fantastic asset.

Am I saying that all children should be forced to complete music lessons for many of their formative years?  Not at all.  Especially if a child does not enjoy learning how to make music at all, I do not think it should be mandatory for him/her to complete a large block of lessons.  It is simply very important for us to present the options to them, so they are introduced to different kinds of music, as well as various approaches to and perspectives about music. Also, for those who are drawn to music-making, they might find that playing with others creates a connection that may make musicking more enjoyable, which has been proven to be uplifting in mood or spirit. For this and many more reasons, we need to develop more opportunities for people of all ages to play and sing with one another.

We also need to keep in mind that signing up one’s child for beginning lessons does not mean that we are pushing him or her to become part of the next generation of classical music soloists or orchestral musicians. It simply means we wish to expose them to new skills and outlets of expression, and to give them tools with which they could develop their creativity.  Teaching them more about process and life as a journey will help them grow in so many important ways, no matter if their attempts are perfect or not. Continuing to walk such a musical path can only enrich one’s life experiences and bring light and joy to existence.  And that seems to be the furthest thing from pointless.

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