At Eltham College we believe in the remarkable advantages that learning an instrument brings to children. We see music as having a huge range of benefits that improves young minds and nurtures their development.
According to Sebastian Johns, Eltham College’s Director of Music, learning an instrument isn’t merely a musical activity: it’s an exercise for the brain. Studies show that when children engage with musical instruments, their memory capacity and motor skills flourish. “Music theory, and the art of practising, involve complex cognitive tasks,” says Johns. “Reading sheet music, interpreting and performing – it all challenges the brain, strengthening its ability to handle other complex tasks.”
Albert Einstein once remarked that “Life without playing music is inconceivable to me,” echoing the sentiment that music education contributes significantly to a child’s cognitive development. Additionally, recent research from Cambridge University revealed that, regardless of a child’s initial proficiency, learning an instrument substantially boosts progress in subjects like Mathematics and English between the ages of 11 and 16.
Beyond cognitive advancements, music education offers a wide range of emotional benefits. “Learning an instrument is a social experience”, explains Johns. “Performing music in ensembles fosters essential social skills, nurturing confidence and resilience in young people. The act of learning, practising, and witnessing tangible improvements instils a sense of achievement, whilst playing music often becomes an important way of relieving stress, which has obvious benefits for school pupils.”
When it comes to selecting an instrument for beginners, the key lies in personal preference and musical style. “There’s no universal answer,” states Johns. “It’s about connecting with the music they love. Whether it’s the classical world of violin music, the jazz sound of a saxophone, or the versatility and cross-genre capabilities of a piano, the instrument that resonates with a child’s passion and preferred musical style is always the one to choose.
The benefits of learning an instrument resonate far beyond the music room. “Music education enhances cognitive abilities, making it easier to grasp complex subjects”, emphasises Johns. Beyond academics, discipline, time management, and organisational skills are intrinsic lessons embedded within learning an instrument. Students develop these skills through managing their regular 1-1 lessons and practice schedules alongside their academic workload. Research at Eltham College has revealed that pupils who learn at least one musical instrument average higher grades in external academic exams, regardless of the instrument played or musical grade level.
To maintain students’ enthusiasm, Johns encourages a two-pronged approach at Eltham College. “Engagement springs from playing music they enjoy”, he says. “Whether practising solo or within an ensemble, enjoyment remains key, and this is something that is always at the heart of our music teaching. Additionally, visible progress serves as a real catalyst for motivation; witnessing tangible advancements encourages consistent practice and fuels a pupil’s passion for music.”
As we continue to foster a nurturing environment for musical exploration at Eltham College, where enjoyment and participation goes hand-in-hand with high-level performance, it’s evident that the benefits of learning an instrument extend far beyond the visible act of playing it; it’s about shaping confident, disciplined, and academically adept individuals.