When I was only 3 years old, my parents put me behind a harp. My older sisters played the instrument, so it was natural for them to want to give me the opportunity to learn to play as well. Music education was a required activity, not simply an extracurricular my siblings and I did for fun.
From a young age I knew that quitting harp would never be an option. It didn’t matter to my parents that I played at a high level or had big aspirations of a music career. They simply valued a musical education and wanted it to be an essential part of my childhood. I never understood how truly valuable that education was until later in my life.
There has been an outstanding amount of research done and countless studies conducted that prove the positive outcomes of a music education on a child’s well-being.
It has been proven that a musical education will provide academic, social, and personal benefits. Studies show that a child who studies music has:
- increased language development
- increased IQ
- improved test scores.
Research indicates that the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a non-musician. Neuroscience research shows that playing an instrument uses multiple areas of the brain simultaneously. Music can fundamentally alter the nervous system to create better learners. Music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children learn in other areas. In short, music learning supports all learning!
I don’t know if I have ever connected my excellence in academics to the fact that I was also a musician. But I do not think it is a coincidence that while I was required to learn an instrument, I also maintained straight A’s through school and was always striving to be involved in advanced placement classes. I can see now, looking back, that the skills I learned behind the harp set me up for academic success. Some of these skills included self-discipline, problem solving skills, and an enhanced ability to memorize and retain information. Even the simple act of learning the power of repetition served me well as a student and in all areas of my life.
Not only does music education enhance academic outcomes, but it can also greatly improve mental health, heal trauma, and enrich lives. In my childhood I experienced trauma when I lost two loved ones in the September 11th terrorist attacks. At a young age I discovered the healing music offered my soul. I have many memories sitting behind the harp and playing music to process my pain, sadness, and feelings that I was not able to put into words otherwise. Now as a music instructor with a private harp studio, I can see this benefit in my own students. I have seen my students who struggle with mental health disorders, parents divorce, or other personal family issues find great strength in their music education. The very act of coming to lessons each week and overcoming hard passages of music gives them confidence that they can do hard things. I have seen students who persevere through the hard moments of learning music come out on the other side with a better self-esteem and inner strength. Additionally, I have witnessed my son utilize his cello as a tool in coping with his clinical anxiety. Playing his instrument can calm him and alleviate stress unlike anything else. Music teaches a child that they can overcome challenges and cope with difficult circumstances beyond their control. Children learn to persevere and learn that nothing will be impossible for them to achieve.
As a parent, I have witnessed firsthand the benefits of music on my children. My 10-year-old daughter plays the harp, my 9-year-old son plays the cello, and my 6-year-old daughter plays the violin. My children have all at one point sat behind their instruments and have told me “I can’t do this!” They have all cried tears of frustration and at one point or another wanted to give up. But like my mother before me I have adopted the attitude that music education in our home is not optional, it is essential. We work through the hard moments together and I have been moved to tears as I have watched my children overcome and not give up. I have seen their self-confidence grow. I have seen their emotional intelligence mature. All three of my children who play instruments are academically far ahead of their peers and each excel in math, vocabulary, and reading. I often wonder why they do such an exceptional job when I am not doing any extra tutoring at home in any of these subjects. I have seen firsthand the truth behind all the research that shows that music learning supports all learning. Their brains have an increased capacity for acquiring knowledge and they each love attending school to learn. Music education has helped my children become confident learners of all subjects because they know that with repetition and a determined attitude that they will soon be on the other side of any problem saying, “I did it!”
Too often I have seen parents view music as an optional but not essential part of a child’s upbringing. But what would happen if music was prioritized? I can speak from my own personal experiences as a professional musician who played through their childhood, as a musical instructor, and as a parent of musical children that the outcome would be a generation of well-rounded successful learners and children with increased happiness levels and more enriched lives. There is power in a musical education, and I can think of no greater gift to give a child. Music will change their life for the better and set them up for success in all other areas.
Mallory Wahlstrom Wright has played the harp for 30 years. She studied harp performance at the University of Arizona in Tucson under the direction of Carrol McLaughlin. At the University of Arizona, she had the opportunity to be a member of Harpfusion, the world's largest touring harp ensemble. With Harpfusion she performed ensemble and solo concerts in Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with her Bachelor of Arts in Harp Performance. She has performed with numerous community orchestras and was a member of the Timpanogos Symphony Orchestra for 5 years. She is passionate about teaching music and currently runs a private harp studio with 15 students. Mallory is married to Dallin Wright and they have five children, Molly, Noah, Alice, Owen, and Emma. Her older children play the harp, cello, and violin. Music plays a vital role inside their home.