Music is Movement

By Kristina Lee

Some months ago, I wrote an article called Is Music a Language? The conclusion of the article was that music is not a language in its strict definition but that the process of learning music closely resembles the process of learning a language; like a language, music is a medium of communication that creates meaning through its vocabulary, syntax, tone and structure.

What would you say if I told you that there is something that can improve your mental capacity, physical fitness and emotional wellbeing drastically? You guessed it. It is music. For the purpose of this article, it is the process of learning to play and mastering an instrument.

How can learning an instrument achieve all these benefits? Because music is more than communication. Music is also movement.

Think about the last Winter Olympics. And let’s picture a figure skater. Imagine not only the hours that went into the preparation but also the lifetime of dedication it takes to become a world class figure skater. What are some words that describe figure skating? Some words that come to my mind are artistry, choreography, power, flexibility, precision, grace, expression, beauty, speed, and control.

How does an athlete achieve all these qualities and be able to execute them in mere 4 minutes and 30 seconds? You guessed it. Many, many hours of practice. That is many tens of thousands of repetitions of the same movement in intentional and controlled manner.

The more I teach piano, I find myself using words like agility, strength, power, momentum, heavy, light, propulsion, supple, controlled and robust because playing the piano well requires athleticism. It is important for a student of music to feel the weight of a chord, shape of a melody and the physical sensations of a rhythmic pattern.

In the process, a student must learn both the physical exhilaration of the music and the muscular control it requires to shape and tame the energy of the music. When that doesn’t happen, music becomes chaos. Just like figure skating, you have to be totally free and you have to be totally in control. Nobody said that it is easy or even human. Learning this balance and applying it consistently is a lifetime of work. “Talent” will only take one so far.

I am writing this article specifically for the parents of our students. My goal is that,

  1. You will deepen your understanding of the value of music lessons for your child.
  2. You will have an appreciation for what a practice is and what it requires.
  3. And you will grow in your empathy when you ask and expect your child to “practice.”

Of course, most of you and I don’t operate on daily basis with an ambition like the Olympics (if there is such thing in music). We have more simple and practical goals like we want our children to enjoy learning to play the piano and become adults who will enjoy making music.

Enjoyment is easier during the first months of piano lessons; going from none to some is not that hard. It is the second and the third and the fourth years that the enjoyment is harder to achieve. Those are the years when students are required to learn self-examination, deep thinking and listening and apply these concepts in the way they practice. And true joy is experienced when they feel that beautiful balance of freedom and self-control in their music making.

Last thought—what is a practice like for your child? It is like you going to the gym and getting a good workout. You know it’s good for you. You know you should. You even know that your life might depend on it. But you sort of dread it. You need discipline, you need perspective and you need small successes to celebrate your progress in order for you to make it a lifetime of pursuit and joy.