When I was but a wee babe, the Partridge Family was a hit show. I loved it for many reasons, not the least of which was the existence of “Lori Partridge,” who justified my name as a cool-girl name. I still hold a grudge against the Romper Room lady for never saying she saw “Lori” when she looked through her magic mirror at her friends at home.
The Partridges were good looking and talented, sure, but they got along reasonably well, and they made music together. My family wasn’t musical: I grew up in a family of jocks. My Dad played football and my Mother was a cheerleader, and they were both natural athletes. This did not pass along to me. I’m lucky to walk across a carpeted room without falling. I can neither run, throw, nor catch. But I am musical.
Playing music with other people has always been my favorite form of communication. Recently, a friend of mine was battling with her ten year old son about practicing piano, and she asked the hive mind that is Facebook how to articulate why she thought is was so important that he learn to play the piano. This got me to thinking. Why is music education so important? I mean, sure I could look it up. Goodness knows there are countless articles written on the subject and actual scientific sounding studies done. But that would be work, and I’d rather just tell you what I think.
Music is another language. If you take music lessons and can read music fluently (without stopping to count the lines or spaces and saying to yourself “Every Good Boy Does Fine”) you can read another language. You know words in Italian and German. If you learn the piano, you learn to read both treble clef and bass clef – two different alphabets – at the same time! I mean, imagine if you had English instructions for your right hand on the top line, and French instructions for your left hand on the bottom line. Do you think there would be a chance you could follow all those rapid-fire instructions without messing up? That’s what piano players do, essentially. Now tell me that won’t train your brain for complex tasks.
Playing any instrument with any kind of skill forces you to listen intently. If you play a note in a way that makes the number of sound waves per second off by only one or two, there are whole categories of people that will want to rip your ears off. People have very strong opinions about sound waves, about whether a concert “A” should be 440 Hz or 442, or (gasp) 432. Only a trained ear can hear the difference. Tell me that doesn’t train you to listen to the nuances in speech.
Music is also about communication. Whenever you play with another person, you have to sense speed, intonation, pull and push, emphasis and unimportance. You have to learn to take a back seat to the melody. You learn that it isn’t always your turn, and how a good bass line is like a strong spine. It’s in the back, all covered up, and most people aren’t even aware of yours. But without it, you’d collapse.
Nothing makes me happier than the fact that my children have turned out to be musical. Occasionally, the planets align, and we are all home with nothing else pressing, and we play trios, my daughter and I on the flute, and my son on the oboe. Sometimes I’ll accompany them on the piano. Those are the happiest moments of my life. I mean, check us out on YouTube. Horrific camera angle aside, we’re not the Partridge Family, but we are Grammy worthy, no? Come On! Get Happy! And this from two kids who can’t go more than two minutes without calling each other inappropriate names, and who both think I’m the most embarrassing, uncool human on the planet.
I recently accompanied my son during his audition for a music scholarship. He didn’t win the scholarship, but he won life, as far as I’m concerned. He dropped his music halfway through, and picked it up on a rest without missing a beat. Yup, that’s my kid. In playing piano for him, I got to spend time with him, and we learned lots about how to read each other’s non-verbal cues. Plus, since he was the soloist and I was the mere accompanist, he got to be in charge of me. He worked hard, and something beautiful came out at the other end.
I would imagine that teammates playing basketball together would learn many of the same lessons. It doesn’t matter how you learn them, so long as they get learned.
And that, my friends, is music to my ears.
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Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Asked in the First Place” was awarded the Gold Medal for humor in the Foreword INDIES awards in 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here. If you want Lori to help you market your book, click here.