Children and young people can benefit greatly from making music together in a band, music ensemble, or orchestra. The individual benefits offered by collective music making include: self-confidence, development of a sense of aesthetics, teamwork, problem-solving ability and deep focus, discipline, pursuit of excellence, leadership, determination, self-esteem, perseverance, collaboration and coexistence, competitive spirit and academic success.
This article is inspired by the Venezuelan system of children’s and youth orchestras, better known as “El Sistema.” This system of youth orchestras has helped thousands of children through collective music exercises.
Based on my five years of participatory observations as a member of a youth orchestra and my years of studying orchestral practises and teaching music to children and adults, I can state that collective music-making offers multiple benefits, starting at the individual level and spreading among families and communities.
The individual level includes the spiritual, moral, intellectual, and affective development of young people involved in collective music practice, helping them to develop their full potential. The individual benefits offered by collective music making include: self-confidence, development of a sense of aesthetics, teamwork, problem-solving ability and deep focus, discipline, pursuit of excellence, leadership, determination, self-esteem, perseverance, collaboration and coexistence, competitive spirit and academic success.
Children and teenagers gain confidence by making music. They feel like important members of a group, the orchestra. Teachers and conductors pay a lot of attention to them, making them feel like they are creating something important and beautiful by working together. They take on musical challenges, work towards hard-to-reach goals, and show their newfound confidence during their performances.
The young musicians also develop a sense of aesthetic beauty from their early years through sensual experiences. They listen to and play exquisite music; they touch and feel beautiful instruments; they practise and play surrounded by the beautiful architecture of world-class theatres and concert halls; and they even develop their own aesthetic by dressing to perform.
Music gives strength. First one looks for excellence in the music played, and then one looks for excellence in everything else. That’s the magic of the arts. The arts transform individuals’ sense of beauty; then, after seeing the intrinsic value of the arts, they won’t settle for less.
The orchestral structure provides an excellent basis for learning to work as a team player. The orchestra is an example of how to live well in a democratic society. In the orchestra, everyone has a specific function and everyone works together to achieve a common goal. The young musicians learn that to make good music, they have to listen to each other and work as a team.
The orchestra or music ensemble is the ideal micro-democratic society. Through the orchestral exercise, children and young people learn that the contribution of each member is directly related to the overall orchestral result. In the orchestra, they have to listen to each other and work like well-tuned instruments. In this way, the orchestra is similar to a piano, with each member being equal to a key, and each key being fundamental to the successful functioning of the entire instrument.
Making music is an excellent way to learn problem-solving skills and achieve deep focus. Children learn to handle new situations by learning new pieces of music. Musicians learn to see the big picture, the small parts, and the possible obstacles and how to think about how to deal with the music technically and stylistically. They learn to apply problem-solving skills, which they can later apply when solving any kind of problem, because they have learned to think. They have also learned how to concentrate because they have to concentrate for a long time during rehearsals and exercises. This ability to focus and concentrate deeply also helps them do other, non-musical activities.
young members of the orchestra must adhere to disciplinary rules, as in any other professional orchestra. They learn to listen to the conductor’s instructions, and they learn to behave professionally in concert halls, in hotels, and on aeroplanes during tours. They learn etiquette and protocol for different situations. They learn time management, punctuality, and to follow schedules. In general, they are in situations where they have to control their own impulses to work together to reach a common goal.
Part of the experience of playing in a musical ensemble is close contact with professional musicians and instructors. These contacts inspire the children to strive for excellence. They may also go to concerts to watch professional musicians play, and they often choose role models or idols whose careers they follow and admire. No one aspires to be mediocre; young musicians learn that if they work hard, as others have done before them, they can excel.They learn to be motivated and pursue excellence for their own rewards.
Within the orchestra, the most advanced young musicians are given the lead. They occupy the section leader posts in the orchestra and learn to be responsible for their sections. They must establish common techniques and styles for specific situations. They model the leadership skills and techniques of the more experienced musicians and mature leaders. They learn to give encouragement, positive criticism, praise, advice, and lead by example.
Children who participate in an orchestra or musical ensemble learn individual responsibility, set high standards for themselves and develop a work ethic. Through hours of rehearsals, weeks of touring and seminars, and countless performances, young musicians discover the connection between hard work and success. This knowledge and experience can be applied to any career choice they make in life. Self-esteem
From the moment they are included in the musical ensemble, the young musicians become part of the orchestra family. They feel important, valuable, and safe in their environment. They are not afraid to fail because failure does not threaten their sense of competence and self-esteem. They also begin to experience a connection to the larger society. In this way, many children from the lower social classes feel that they are respectable citizens who have acquired an important place in society and are therefore less likely to be lost to drugs and other social vices. Inclusion and acceptance thus create a strong sense of self, which motivates them to succeed. They identify as professional musicians and behave accordingly. According to Woolfork (2004), when students participate fully, motivation arises from identity and identity from legitimate participation. A positive cycle is created.
It is quite understandable that any child who learns deeply through experience that practise creates the skills necessary to excel will strive to achieve the level of performance expected of him or her. This happens in music, like in any other activity that requires practise to succeed. Through endless practice, they see themselves getting better.
Young musicians learn early on that excellence is not achieved without serious effort and practice. Because of this, they become mastery-oriented students who focus on achieving goals to improve their skills and abilities.
Young musicians from different socio-economic backgrounds, of different ages, and with a wide range of abilities, learn tolerance, flexibility, and cooperative living through the different situations they are involved in during their time in the orchestra. There is no culture of guilt; instead, individuals strive for their personal best, competing with themselves as well as with others. They learn, practice, and travel together, and often form long-lasting friendships with their orchestra or choir members.
The nature of orchestral practise requires the cooperation of all performers. This condition provides the necessary relationships among the individuals, musicians, the orchestral sections, and the orchestra as a whole. In addition, there are relationships between the soloist and the orchestra and between the orchestra and the conductor. All of these collaborative experiences help musicians become more aware of the different roles they play in the orchestra, which in turn affects how they act in other social situations.
Competition is part of human nature. Ultimately, the young musicians will have to compete for top jobs and money, but the orchestra provides the special time and place in which they can learn to compete without negative consequences. In the arts, music is one of the few fields where individual needs are subjected to the collective. Musical elements such as rhythm and, more specifically, harmony place physical demands on individuals. There cannot be multiple perceptions of rhythm, style, or harmony in an orchestra. Individuals use music to express themselves and communicate a message, but they do so within the bounds of a group’s understanding of the musical elements of a piece.
Healthy competition is similar to playing a game and can make practise and learning more fun. A spirit of competition is present in collective music practice, as in any other activity that rewards excellence. The youth orchestra offers an opportunity in which individuals compete and work together (i.e., healthy competition) at the same time. Motivated by this spirit of healthy competition, musicians who are part of the orchestra feel free to make mistakes and challenge themselves, pushing their limits in a safe environment.
The attitude of the young musicians minimises the traditional problems of performance anxiety. Those who started performing at a young age with strong emotional encouragement from their parents [instructors and/or peers] have been proven to suffer less from stage fright.
(Frederiksen and Lavatelli quoted in Goode, p.42). The children who participate in the orchestra see performing as an approved and encouraged activity, which is also fun, and so they move forward in their artistic career with a confident attitude. As young musicians, they focus on the music in a childlike way, with total confidence, sincerity, and carefreeness.
A positive connection has been established between regular school studies and orchestral practice, as experienced in the Venezuelan system of orchestras (El Sistema). The system requires young people to achieve optimal academic performance at school in order to enter music studies. Children are required to plan their activities appropriately to maximise their available time to succeed academically and musically. Young people who are part of the system show a significant improvement in their capacities for attention, concentration, and assimilation of mathematics. They are constantly encouraged by their friends and teachers to continue their studies.
The benefits of music have often been researched, and multiple studies have shown that the study of music is not only beneficial in itself, but also aids in the learning of mathematics, reading, and science, as Halpern (1985, 1999) claims (cited by Jensen). 2000). Music is “an effective vehicle for the conscious and unconscious transmission of information” (p. 247).
According to Jensen (2000), some of the learning benefits attributed to music include relaxation and stress reduction; promoting creativity through brain wave activation; stimulation of imagination and thinking; and stimulating motor skills, speaking and vocabulary. In addition, studying music helps to keep the group’s energy focused and aligned, which helps to keep people from misbehaving.
Leidys Monascal studied international studies, cultural management, and music performance in Venezuela, where she was a member of the Venezuelan national system of children’s and youth orchestras. She then moved to Miami and received her Master’s degree in Music Education from Florida International University. She is now an accredited music teacher and is determined to use her cultural management and music education training to follow her dream and make a big positive impact in the lives of young children. Therefore, she produced her own music programme and is working on her own project, “TheSmARTsCool.” She wants to give young people in her area the chance to learn about the many benefits of music and the arts.