"1. Music study enlists the gathering of information and refining of at least three of our five senses: hearing, seeing, and touching. For each, information must be perceived, analyzed, organized into meaningful signals, and acted upon. Perception which is both accurate and highly detailed is required for successful achievement.  Such sensitivity is not always emphasized in our society, rife with casual sound, sight, and touch sensations. We are constantly surrounded by both music and noise not listened to, unwatched video screens running endlessly, and the impersonal touch of chrome, glass, plastic, or wood on handles, push buttons, banisters, cups and wrappers. We begin scarcely to notice any of it. Moreover, this complex environment ultimately desensitizes us, so that we begin not to be able to listen, observe, or sense touch carefully, even when we wish to. Thus we are in constant danger of dulling our perception to a point where it is difficult to restore it.

"Music study focuses on beauty in sound, not only musical sounds but also on counterparts in the world of concrete sounds, such as birdcalls, rainfall, or church bells (all imitated by music frequently), and on the response within us which the perception of such sound inspires. The musical page teaches us to use our eyes both to scan and to observe the smallest detail. And learning to love and to respond to the feel of playing an instrument or placing a vocal sound triggers an intimate sensory awareness, a tactile sensitivity almost unmatched in any other realm of human activity. Thus music study is one of the most powerful catalysts for strengthening and refining these areas of sensory perception.

"2. Surely music study reaches virtuoso heights in the realm of abstract thinking. The properties of sound themselves - pitch, duration, intensity, and timbre - all must be conceived abstractly, and each sound (with all its properties) must constantly be compared to the next. Structure in its entirety must be conceived, as well as the relationships of the parts to each other and to the whole. Whether dealing with phrases or sections or entire pieces, the mind is called upon to relate such things as relative position, importance, and function; and all of this must be projected against a time-based framework.

"Such skills sharply developed by music study can be transferred to other areas. It is certainly no wonder that traditional associations exist between music and mathematics, music and philosophy, music and computer science (to name but a few), for these links are born to a great degree from a common utilization of and demand for abstract thinking.

"3. Music thinking shows us how to deal with a learning process wherein physical response is an important component. Perception oftentimes runs well ahead of our ability to respond physically in a disciplined way. We have to treat the physical side with respect, care, and patience to get it to learn, but by the same token we know there are ways to work which will ensure that such response will be learned rapidly and securely. Music study is an ideal format with which to learn practice techniques, to sense the feedback from the physical side of the learning process, and to keep the response system in fine working order. Those who perfect these skills will understand how to approach any learning situation involving the physical, whether it be driving a car, typing, learning to use a computer, sewing, or almost any form of recreational or sports activity.

"4. The relationship between making music and personal expression is too obvious to belabor. There are, however, a couple of observations which we don't always include in our thinking. One is noting the fact that almost all music making is a collaborative effort. Even playing or singing a solo is usually a combination of the performer's expressive inclinations and the composer's, or a tradition, or an imposed outline of some sort. The degree to which that collaboration allows freedom of expression to the performer varies considerably from style to style. Determining the appropriate extend of freedom in each performance and the parameters of the collaboration are exercises which reflect the dynamics of many life situations both in the home and the workplace. Every music student, thus, gets a great deal of experience in how to handle expressive freedom, collaboration, and interpersonal relationships.

"The second observation grows out of the first, but focuses specifically on individual heritage. Music as an expression of ethnicity is an obvious part of folk culture, but oftentimes this expression becomes muted or set aside as the quest for artistic excellence is pursued, especially if the art music comes from a culture which is far removed from the performer's personal heritage. This need not and should not be the case. One's own sense of color, pacing, drama, and emotional temperament is very much tied up with one's heritage. Knowing and understanding that aesthetic sense, as well as being very much aware of its interaction with the music, can only serve to heighten emotional intensity and project the music with deeply felt conviction. The process of recognizing and playing to these strengths will also build both a sense of ethnic pride in each of us and a sense of respect for the ethnicity of others. Music making can thus be a powerful catalyst for building this dual awareness, celebrating one's own sense of expression and appreciating its counterpart as it comes from others.

"5. Music study leads to some kind of performance in most situations, whether for relatives, close friends, or in a more public arena. Often we musicians are apologetic or apprehensive about the stress and possible disappointment which attends such tests. As seasoned practitioners who have experienced the emotional discomfort of before and after a performance, we sympathize. As concerned music teachers, we worry about negative effects on our students if the stress or disappointment becomes too intense. And we should. But in doing so, we also tend not to plug into a very powerful mainstream in our society, and thus we fail to note that we as musicians are able to offer all the excitement and interest which the larger public seeks regularly in its addiction to performance, particularly sports performance.

"If ever a society was hooked on performance, it is ours today. All the way from Little Leagues to the Super Bowl, we revel in the challenge of performance. We perform in teams much of the time, but we also try to improve our individual performances in golf, bowling, running, swimming, and many other activities. We set our own goals, absorb our disappointments, toughen our resolve, try repeatedly, note our progress, and celebrate our achievements. "Personal best" is a concept we all covet, and it is born of performance. Moreover we see some type of performance in our jobs becoming crucial to long-range success. Music making is one of the best training grounds for learning how to prepare for performance, for meeting its stress and challenges, for learning how to deal with both the short-range disappointments and success, and for mapping out a strategy for long-range achievement. The built-in performance-training program in music is virtually unequalled."


From Etudes for Piano Teachers, by Stewart Gordon.