Why Learn An Instrument?

Why Learn An Instrument?
Piano lesson in progressOver my 11 years teaching, over 125 pupils have passed through my doors and each and every one of them has a slightly different reason for wanting to learn an instrument (or to sing). I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at some of these reasons – do any of them resonate with you (or did you think you were the only one who thought that?!).

I’ve been teaching myself, but now I’m not sure where to go next…

Since musical instruments became more affordable and available, and since the advent of the internet, many people have taken up an instrument where they have then taught themselves. A lot of people in this category get to a certain point before they decide they need to help from ‘outside’. Stef had taught herself the flute, but felt she needed some teacher input to improve her tone, and she also wanted to take Grade 5 as an ‘outside’ measure of her progress. Max was a mainly self-taught pianist but was realising that his playing was ahead of his technique and wanted these to be on a more level playing field. Henry had taught himself piano and had started working on Grade 1 repertoire, but had realised it was hard without a teacher. Roger had been given a flute, and had had a go at making a sound, but wasn’t really sure where to start.

I’m doing GCSE/A Level Music and I need to improve my playing/singing…

I have, over the past 11 years, taught many young people who’ve been studying for GCSE, AS and A Level music. Most had already played, but few had had formal lessons. Dina had always enjoyed singing, hadn’t got on very well with the peripatetic teacher at school, but needed to improve her skills for GCSE Music. She also went on to become an accomplished composer passing the DipVCM during her A-Level year. Catherine had played the piano, but hadn’t had any lessons. Although she had passed GCSE Music with singing as her ‘instrument’ the school stated she should have a second instrument for A-Level, hence taking up the piano. Abi had had a few singing lessons at school, but again, not got on very well with the teacher. She wanted to use singing for the performance element of AS and A-Level Music. She went on to get her Grade 8, and earlier this year graduated with a BA(Hons) in Music from Oxford Brookes University. Soon she’ll be on the other side of the fence as she’s studying for a PGCE in Music!

A mixture of adult and child pupils at one of David's Platform Performances - an informal opportunity to perform to other pupils in a supportive environmentI’m not a very confident person, and I’d like to improve…

One of the things which virtually every pupil would agree with is that learning an instrument does improve your confidence. Several pupils have been testament to the fact that it doesn’t just improve your confidence as a musician, but in all walks of life. Sue had an accident at home which really knocked her confidence. She had always enjoyed piano and thought it would be a good way to improve her lack of confidence; she went on to take several exams and take part in performances. Deborah had always enjoyed singing, particularly at the karaoke, but really wanted to improve her confidence. Singing was a good way of saying ‘I can do this’. Maddy had sung in choirs all her life, studied saxophone and graduated with a BMus from Kings College London. A continuing illness meant that her confidence was on low ebb. She wanted to improve her confidence through learning to sing. She went on to sit Grade 8 and to give a public recital in a city church. Laura described herself as ‘not the most confident person’ and she was keen to find a way to change this. She enjoyed singing and felt this would be a good ‘way in’. She went on to sit an exam and to perform in public.

I’m already working in the music industry, but I want to hone my skills…

I get quite a lot of enquiries from people who already work in music; it’s hard when you work in the industry to admit to there being things you can’t do, so it takes a lot of courage to ask for help. James was already working as a DJ and music producer, but he felt limited in the type of work he could take on as he didn’t have sufficient working theory knowledge. He worked through the LCM Popular Music Theory course and also took up the piano. Jennie was already accomplished on several other instruments, had several music degrees and a PhD in Music Education. She had taught both privately and peripatetically for several years and had also been involved in running several music service ensembles. She wanted to hone her singing skills and sit her Grade 8 so that she felt more confident to work with singers and choirs. Alison already sung gigs with her own band, and whilst she’d always enjoyed singing, she was worried that without proper training, her voice would be damaged. She worked hard to undo a lot of bad habits and went on to take several exams and perform several solo jazz recitals. Martin performed gigs with his guitar but was worried his voice lacked power. He worked to improve his technique, and went on to produce a very accomplished CD of folk-songs.

A Gala Evening - performance by David Barton and pupilsI’ve always sung in church, but I’d like to support it with some basic technical skills…

A common scenario, particularly for adults, is that they’ve always sung in church congregations or choirs, but haven’t had any technical training. Sue had sung in her small church and had begun to be asked to sing solos. A chronic illness meant she needed to improve her breathing in particular and she wanted, overall, to be able to sing more securely when asked. Liz probably sung whilst still a babe in arms, and had sung with a church choir and also a local choral society. She’d had a few lessons, but really wanted to improve her solo technique. She went on to sit Grade 5 and to sing several solo recitals. Amy had always enjoyed singing in church and to the radio, but lacked confidence. She wanted to boost the power of her voice and generally improve confidence. Jan had always enjoyed singing as a child, but was curious to see in her 40s whether she still could. She worked very hard eventually reaching Grade 8 level, and also singing several solo recitals.

My confidence collapses at auditions…

This is a very common problem, and many people will sympathise with the feeling of ‘nothing coming out’ at an audition. Lou had always enjoyed singing, particularly in the chorus of her operatic and dramatic group. She wanted to try for some solo parts but hadn’t got any because nerves took over the audition. She wanted to learn how to both manage the effect nerves had on her singing, and to give a convincing performance to an audition panel.

Girl playing the fluteI played when I was younger, and now I’d like to start again…

Learning an instrument used to be something which children did. It’s only in recent years that it’s become more accepted that even adults can take up a new hobby/challenge later on in life. Stella had piano lessons as a child, at the time when the strict teacher rapped you over the knuckles if you made a mistake. Whilst the lessons didn’t last very long, over 60 years later, she was still playing for her own enjoyment, but was curious to see whether, at the age of 67 whether she could still learn something new. She went on to progress through several graded exams, and also to perform in public (she still aims to get to Grade 8 one day!). Michael had played at school, and having been away at university wanted to take up the piano again. He very quickly got back into it sitting Grade 5 and then working on theory. Elizabeth didn’t have a very good experience of learning the piano as a child, but she did enjoy it and felt that approaching retirement, it would be a good thing to take up again. She progressed through several exams, learned to perform in public, and struck up some long-standing duet relationships.

I want to audition for dance schools and I need to sing a solo…

There must be more dance schools around now than ever before. Many youngsters now attend these from toddlers right though the age of 18, and many want to go on to study dance, performing arts or music theatre at university or college. Although a lot will have sung in shows and for their own enjoyment, many are surprised to find that most of these colleges require them to perform a solo song at auditions. Katie was a very accomplished dancer, but needed to improve her singing ready for auditions. She quickly found that she very much enjoyed the singing too, and went on to sing several solos in public, and to sit Grade 5. Emma presented a similar story, and was also surprised at how much she enjoyed the singing as a subject in itself, again progressing to Grade 5.

These profiles really only present a snapshot of why people choose to learn an instrument. I’m sure that as you’ve read them, some of them will have resonated with you. It may have given you the confidence to realise that it’s not just you who feels like that, and maybe now’s the time to give it a go – remember, I provide flute, piano and singing lessons here in Lichfield. People also travel from Tamworth, Alrewas, Yoxall, Rugeley, Stone, Walsall, Whittington, Burntwood and Sutton Coldfield too.

As I’ve been writing this post, it’s struck me once again as to how powerful music can be. Many of the stories told don’t just highlight the enjoyment of the music itself, but of the effect it has on the much wider sphere of people’s lives.

One Response to Why Learn An Instrument?

  1. Pingback: Now is as good a time as any… | David Barton Music

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