By Su D’Ambrosio
“I quit!” I remember this moment clearly. I was trying to master the new low notes on my clarinet, and my short fingers were not quite able to cover the holes. The sounds I produced were horrifying squeaks and squawks. I took the clarinet apart, threw it piece by piece onto my bed and decided that this was the end of my playing career. I was eight years old at the time and had been playing clarinet for a grand total of three months. I marched into my teacher’s office and told her the bad news. While expressing her disappointment, she reminded me of the great progress I was making, promising me a spot in the band if I stuck with it. The fact that this adult believed in me, and was unwilling to give up on me, literally changed my life. I continued with my lessons, joined the band, became one of the top musicians in my school, and ultimately pursued a career in music. Along my music journey, there were always teachers encouraging me to stay the course.
Learning to play an instrument is a curious mix of joy, accomplishment, hard work and frustration. It requires discipline, practice, monetary investment, perseverance, and dedication. Why do young people commit to all of this if they aren’t intending to become professional musicians? Why are parents willing to invest so much time and money and endure the inevitable moments of whining and complaining? To find the answer, simply observe a lesson!
During their lesson, students receive the undivided attention of their teacher. There are no distractions, no other students. That dynamic allows for a deep and lasting relationship, one that is often the first meaningful relationship with an adult other than the student’s parents. The step-by-step nature of learning an instrument lends itself to celebrating little victories along the way. There is a constant sense of intrinsic motivation. The reward is the actual learning itself as the student masters a new skill or song. There is also an immediate emotional connection to this experience. Creating and sharing music results in joy! Even in a lesson where a student is struggling to master a new skill, the teacher incorporates an element of success though revisiting a favorite song or playing a duet with the student. The focus is both on what the student can do and what they are striving to accomplish.
Students who learn to play an instrument also learn important life skills of discipline, time management, responsibility and self-confidence. These students are often successful in many areas beyond the music lesson and appreciate what they learned through music throughout their adult lives.
As I sit in my office at South Shore Conservatory (SSC), I am surrounded by the sound of music lessons in the rooms around me. Guitar, violin, viola, piano, trumpet and voice all blend together in an interesting mix of classical and contemporary melodies. There are beginners playing simple tunes and learning new notes each day, and advanced students preparing for auditions and competitions. Some days are more harmonious than others, but they all make me hopeful for the future, as I hear each musician making progress each week, and the encouraging words of our teachers who believe in them.
Learn more about SSC’s First Lesson Free promotion at https://sscmusic.org/private-lessons/ call 781-749-7565, x10, or find South Shore Conservatory on Facebook.
Su D’Ambrosio is Director of Programs and Curriculum for South Shore Conservatory. She lives in Plymouth with her daughters Maria and Rosa, and her dog Bernie who learned the important life lessons of “sit”, “stay” and “drop it” from his very patient teacher, Lisa.