One of the great things about playing a musical instrument either solo or as part of an ensemble, band, or orchestra is that the skills you develop transfer so effectively—and effortlessly— to other areas of life.
Of the skills honed as a musician, the ability to multitask is one of the first. Playing an instrument involves reading, listening, and performing complex physical actions all at the same time. The world we live in today is so fast paced that a person who can't multitask is soon be left behind.
This reason alone is surely enough to encourage music study for children. But there are many other reasons to connect musical activities with broader success in life. Exposure to music is known to benefit children in their school performance as well as being beneficial to adults in helping promote alertness and encouraging the kinds of activities that keep memory sharp.
Consider the powers of concentration and focus necessary to learn a musical piece and to stay in tune and in tempo with your band mates during a performance. The ability to stay focused on matters at hand while bringing tasks—or musical performances—to a successful conclusion is an invaluable skill in just about any undertaking. This level of discipline is akin to learning to speak another language, and just as challenging. Mastering a musical instrument is one of the best ways to ingrain the kind of discipline that yields benefits throughout life.
While performing musically with others in a group you'll also be learning about how to get along effectively with others for a common purpose—from communicating effectively, to learning how to negotiate disagreements agreeably, to keeping a group on task, and any number of others in between. After all, in music, as in life, we're usually trying to perform harmoniously with others.
You can't perform musically without also developing the ability to truly listen. And in life, good listeners are as welcome and valuable as they are rare. Being an effective listener makes learning easier, keeps you better informed, and helps you get to know others in more enriching ways.
On a more serious note, music is one of the most mathematical of the arts. Consider musical time signatures, breaking whole beats into fractions, and understanding musical theory such as the intervals of thirds, fourths, fifths, and so on. Scientists even tell us that music study and playing a musical instrument benefits the centers of the brain involving math and thinking. Enhancing the ability to exercise these higher thought processes transfers to all the non-musical areas of a person's life.
As an aside, the spatial and time orientation enhanced by a musical background, as demonstrated by scientific studies, is applicable not just to improved mathematical abilities, but also to improved physical performance where motor control is important—such as in sports.
Research by Dr. Frank Wilson at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco indicates that musical instrument practice enhances coordination, concentration, and memory while also bringing about improved eyesight and hearing. According to Wilson, involvement in music connects and develops the brain's motor centers, refining it neurologically in ways no other activity can. Dr. Wilson's research has convinced him that musical instruction is "necessary" for complete brain development. Consider the central importance of the brain in virtually everything we do, and the connection between Dr. Wilson's statement and life success is virtually undeniable.
Some of the benefits of developing one's interest in music are less concrete. For example, an interest in music likely will encourage you to take a greater interest in culture—your own and that of others—making you a more interesting person while giving you broader interests. You'll find that your broadened and enhanced interest in the world you live in will make your world a better place in which to live.
Students who have the experience of performing in a band or orchestra generally do better academically than their non-musical peers. This leads to a more positive experience of academic life and an early success that can lead to the kind of confidence that stays with a student through life. The sense of achievement that comes from learning your first simple instrumental piece after moving step by tiny step towards its accomplishment remains for the rest of your life serving as a continual reminder that you tackled a tough goal and made it happen. With this knowledge and experience under your belt, you are more willing to accept challenges as you go on in life.
Success is a great mood enhancer, of course, and so is music. Musical performance is great for enhancing alertness and maintaining an uplifted mood—without negative side effects. Music's mood enhancing ability is legendary—from poet William Congreve's 1697 lines, "Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak," to today's common use of music to help autistic children, stroke victims, or the elderly cope with life. All adults can benefit from learning to play an instrument, thanks to music's stress-relieving qualities. The feeling of relaxation while performing to soothing music on an instrument does even more to calm your mind.
If all the reasons cited above are not enough for you, remember that playing a musical instrument is a lot of fun. There's work involved, to be sure, but with the work comes a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Besides impressing your family and friends, you may go on to make a career in music. But even if you don't, there's ample reason to be confident that the things you learn while learning to play music are advantageous in life in general and in any career.
Yamaha, one of the foremost makers of quality musical instruments, had a poster that said, "Success in music. Success in life…it's no coincidence." That statement appears to contain more truth than mere promotion.