Most of us have read or heard of the studies that show the mental benefits that come from learning a musical instrument. Such benefits include the development of fine motor skills, opportunity for frequent brain stimulation, improvement in cognition and dexterity, concentration enhancement, and increased neuroplasticity, to name a few. All of these benefits alone are incredible and present an excellent case for anyone to study an instrument. However, I would like to explore an entirely different angle that I would argue presents a more valuable reason to study music. As a pianist, I have found practicing an instrument to be a phenomenal teacher of life principles, and that, like all great art, it reflects a larger and much more beautiful picture of reality.
- Practicing teaches Patience.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience . . .” Galatians 5:22
No one picks up an instrument for the first time and is immediately an expert. Becoming an accomplished musician requires years of dedicated practice, which does not happen without acquiring some amount of patience. It takes patience to play a measure over and over or to continually repeat a phrase until it is just so. It requires patience to study the same piece for months on end until it is mastered (if there even is such a thing, but I am getting ahead of myself). But is this not a picture of the Christian life? We do not wake up one day fully sanctified, but rather, we must patiently work through sanctification day by day, moment by moment, as we gradually become more like Christ.
- Practicing teaches Perseverance.
“But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Romans 8:25
One does not practice an instrument for long before reaching a point where progress seems to stop entirely. I cannot count the number of times I have cried in frustration while practicing, thinking that I would never be able to get the correct notes, rhythm, tone, or overcome whatever the particular challenge may have been at the time. Being regularly faced with such hurdles quickly teaches musicians about perseverance while also providing them with frequent opportunities to practice this virtue.
Perseverance is also necessary for the Christian walk. When we are overcome in the midst of a trial, it is then that our perseverance is put to the test. However, it is this perseverance that brings about growth, and through this we find encouragement. Just as the musician is encouraged when he realizes that a particular technique that could once only be accomplished through great difficulty and deliberation is now a natural habit, so we as Christians are also encouraged when we realize that something that had once caused us doubt now strengthens our faith.
- Practicing teaches Perfection . . . or rather, the lack of it.
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect; but I press on . . .” Philippians 3:12
When speaking to any musician, one would be hard pressed to find someone who claimed to have completed a flawless performance. Even if they have only the tiniest critique about their playing, nearly all musicians will tell you that there is no such thing as a perfect performance. Why then do we continue to practice if we know that we will never achieve perfection? We do it because we believe the beauty of the music that we are attempting to create is worth sharing. We know that the more we practice, the more our performance will reflect the true beauty of the music itself. One could ask a similar question to Christians: why do we continue to attempt to become more like Christ if we know that we will never achieve such perfection in this life? The answer would be similar to that of the musician: the more alike we are to the person of Christ, the more our lives will reflect His beauty and truth. Practicing an instrument teaches the reality of imperfection in this world and causes us to long for the beauty of the perfect world yet to come.
I am thankful for the wonderful gift of music that God has given us and that we can learn more about Him through this beautiful art form. Patience, Perseverance, and Perfection are only three out of a long list of virtues practicing an instrument can teach us. So go ahead and pick up that old instrument (or perhaps a new one) and give it a go; at the very least you will give your brain a healthy workout, but who knows, you may just learn a lesson or two about life in the process!
Republished with gracious permission from The Saint Constantine School (December 2019).
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The featured image is “The Piano Lesson” (1871) by George Goodwin Kilburne (1839-1924), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.