Is It Worth It?

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Last Friday I got involved in the Guardian’s live chat on The Future of Music Education, and today I read Matthew Cainesroundup of the conversation.

It got me thinking all morning (as I often do) about the different reasons why children (and adults, but today I’m particularly thinking of children) learn musical instruments. It also got me thinking about the volume of parents who ask me, “Is it worth it for my child to do this?” And it’s that particular question that leaves me bewildered every time I hear it.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fallacy of ‘not being worth it’. Perhaps, if I fiddle about with the subject matter, I could demonstrate my bewilderment…

“It’s not worth your four year old playing with crayons, he won’t go to Art College.”

“Stop your daughter from joining that netball squad, she won’t be good enough to get into the Olympics.”

“Pack away that telescope, your son is not in the top percentile of young scientists who are likely to win a Nobel Prize.”

“Don’t let your daughter go to that creative writing group, she’s not that good at English, so it’s a waste of her time.”

Perhaps the above statements are technically true (it’s unlikely that every child in the netball squad is going to win an Olympic medal) but these (admittedly fictional) children obviously get something out of their groups or their activities. Should they stop because it might not be ‘worth it’?

The four year old playing with crayons is having fun, he’s being creative, and it gives him a sense of accomplishment when he’s finished each masterpiece.

The netballing teenager gains fitness, camaraderie, social skills, a sense of pride when her team wins, an ability to deal with failure when they lose, enjoyment, and an hour running around letting off steam.

The boy with the telescope achieves a sense of personal accomplishment and enjoyment in his wonder at the stars, confidence in his own abilities, and independence in his learning.

The girl attending the creative writing group is learning how to work by herself, and to practise independently. She feels pride in her finished articles, and her self esteem is boosted by the positive encouragement from the group leader and the rest of the group.

And the piano student?

Perhaps your son or daughter may not be the next Mozart, or Paul Lewis, or Nadia Boulanger, but they will achieve, and they will take many positive things away from their musical experiences.

It’s always worth learning an instrument, as long as it’s a process that is enjoyed.



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  1. #1 by Grace Miles on June 13, 2013 - 11:37 pm

    Yes, I completely agree. Lots of people ask “is it too late for me to start playing piano?” when really they’re asking if it’s worth it to start at this age. Whatever age you’re at, you’ll get some value out of playing an instrument.

    • #2 by properpianofingers on June 15, 2013 - 8:25 pm

      Precisely. The worth is in the act itself and the pleasure that someone gets from doing it.

  2. #3 by Not Ashkenazy on June 22, 2013 - 8:52 am

    But…enjoyment of playing the piano is nurtured by learning to do it properly, if one puts ones trust in a method that is cheap but ineffective – and there are so many of those around that are tailored to beginners/parents who wouldn’t know the difference anyway, or allows it to turn into an obsession driven by bad experiences with piano teachers and pressures to succeed in exams, then just to look at a piano would arouse feelings of anxiety and bad memories even when going to a piano recital doesn’t do so.

    • #4 by properpianofingers on June 24, 2013 - 8:58 am

      I would agree with you that enjoyment of playing is greatly dependent on the quality of teaching, and on not putting enormous pressure on students.

  3. #5 by Percy Sugden on June 25, 2013 - 6:56 am

    Sadly, in this day and age there are such things as ‘pushy parents’ who see piano/music lessons as a gateway to academic success in other fields and overencourage musical development in the extreme (like asking a piano teacher to take on his/her four year old) which could have the opposite effect and even turn a kid away from real music as he/she grows up. I only say this because my parents were the complete opposite and wouldn’t let me explore and nurture my creativity as a child.

    • #6 by properpianofingers on June 25, 2013 - 12:10 pm

      ‘Pushy Parents’ certainly exist, but I definitely wouldn’t define them as being parents who request piano lessons for a four year old… Plenty of young children enjoy lessons and indeed request them themselves after seeing friends, relatives, or professionals play. It’s not good that you were not allowed to explore your creativity as a child, but
      it’s great that you are finally able to
      explore it now as an adult.

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