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More Than Singing – The Value of Playing Instruments in Lower School
McKayela Hornor, Music Teacher, Grades 1-3 and Chorus Teacher, Grades 4-8

“I have a special treat for you,” I tell each lower school class each year.

“Is it candy?!” they ask eagerly, the look of anticipation in their eyes.

“Is it ice cream!?” others ask.

“No … we will be playing the glockenspiel!” I exclaim.

This xylophone-like instrument delights them to no end. You would think by their reaction that I indeed had given them candy or ice cream.

But, no matter what instrument the students in lower school are about to learn to play (glockenspiel, recorder, ukulele, or any variety of ORFF instruments), excitement fills the room.

3rd grade student playing the glockenspiel

Why Does Playing an Instrument Create Such Enthusiasm?  

Music is fun. Whether you are singing, composing or playing an instrument, it helps us to be expressive and benefits us socially, emotionally and intellectually. Children do not sense these underlying benefits immediately, but after being exposed to playing instruments, they build a strong sense of accomplishment while also having a good time. They are able to create purposeful sound and music through an instrument they once had no idea how to play.

Social Benefits

  • Music helps students become leaders through practice and repetition. It takes discipline and requires a commitment to play an instrument - skills every leader needs.
  • Students must work together to manage their time. I’ll often tell my students, “We have one week to learn this piece of music,” and it’s up to them to work as a team to take advantage of the time we have together. How well they manage time determines how well the song is executed.
  • Musicians build a sense of community while working with like minds. The students have to listen to each other, communicate through instruments instead of words, and move through the song together by using physical cues and listening skills. They must learn to play as partners, as part of a large group and as soloists.

Emotional Benefits

  • Whether novice or expert, music helps students build confidence. Those who come in with some prior knowledge of instruments will build confidence by expanding their knowledge. On the flip side, students who have never picked up an instrument before also build confidence by accomplishing this brand-new task.
  • The power of playing or even listening to music has been proven to reduce stress. At a young age, their body language will often mimic the feel of the music and I can see any stress melt from their faces as I play soothing sounds. As we age, however, this doesn’t change. My uncle, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, is often very uncommunicable - that is, until someone turns on his favorite 60’s folk tunes or a polka. Suddenly he livens up and can even sing along!

Intellectual Goals

  • Playing an instrument can improve memory. Not only do my students memorize music, pitches, form, etc. but so much of what they do also involves muscle memory as they get a feel for playing different instruments.
  • Studying music can make you smarter, as it uses both sides of the brain simultaneously. While the right side is creative and the left is logical, music bridges the gap between the two. Music involves reading, playing and performing all at once and can be similar to learning a new language.
  • Music class can help improve comprehension in math and science. Reading sheet music is like analyzing a mathematical chart. Each measure is similar to a math equation and each measure adds together to make up the phrase. Reading music involves fractions, counting, adding… it really challenges the mind.

Once our students have been exposed to playing instruments for a prolonged period of time, they are prepared to further develop their skills and specialize in an instrument of their choice upon entering middle school. They have a better understanding of the process for learning an instrument, feel confident that it’s something they can accomplish and deepen a life-long love of music.

3rd grade class of students playing the glockenspiel

About the Author

McKayela Hornor

McKayela Hornor

Music Teacher, Grades 1-3
Chorus Teacher, Grades 4-8

mhornor@stanleyclark.org

  • academics
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  • music