Are Music Lessons Worth It? Hidden Benefits May Tip the Scale
We have our 7-year-old enrolled in piano lessons. He's been at it for a little over a year now. There were various reasons for starting him off, but he's taken a liking to it, and I can envision him sticking with it for several years. Since his recital was this weekend, I was taking inventory of the costs and benefits of his lessons to date and thought it would make for a good discussion. (See also: The Vital Need for Music Education on Parenting Squad)
What Do Piano Lessons Cost?
We did really luck out with a great piano teacher around the corner who teaches for $25 per 30 minute lesson. Granted, at face value, that would equate to about $50/hour, which for a full-time worker is about a six figure salary. But the reality is, she only gives a few lessons at night since kids are in school all day, and she probably makes a few hundred bucks a month doing it. So she's not getting rich teaching piano, despite some common complaints (read The High Cost of Music for a contrary opinion). I've seen lessons for anywhere from $30-$50/lesson elsewhere, so I feel we're getting good value for our time and efforts.
Here's how the full cost of the lessons breaks down, including time and travel.
At $25/lesson and about 40 weeks a year, we're talking $1,000 per year out-of-pocket for the lessons themselves.
It's a couple miles from our home, so I figure at 40 trips x $1 in gas round trip, that's $40 a year in gas.
Then there's my time. It takes about 45 minutes a week round-trip, plus the time I spend practicing with our son. On one hand, one might try to equate this to time I could be earning money or something, but since this is during daylight hours and I do most of my freelance/blog work at night, it's really just time spent away from the other kids, so I can't assign a "cost" to that. I just make it up by doing other stuff with them.
Incidentals like additional music books, an annual recital, etc. probably add up to another $60/year.
So, the annual cost of piano lessons is about $1,100/year.
I don't know how many years he'll take lessons. Kids go through phases and come in and out of various interests. If I assume he plays through high school (highly unlikely), we're talking 10 years x $1,100 = $11,000 for 10 years of piano lessons.
What Benefits Are Derived From Piano Lessons?
While the much-maligned Tiger Mom proponents may seem over the top in banning their children from sports, social interactions, and "fun" to focus solely on schooling and hours of music practice per day, they may be on to something with the music benefits. This recent study lends further credence to the impact on the brain of those who play music. My son's already learning fractions, a new language (reading music is not intuitive and very different than reading a book), and discipline — how to practice, budget time, overcome stage fright, and more. These are all skills that he wouldn't be learning in front of the Wii, and to some degree, things he wouldn't be learning in school either.
I used to play guitar as a kid, and I definitely see the corollaries with math. As I was trying to nail 16th and 32nd notes to master a Metallica solo, I was training my brain to interpret and become comfortable with complex, fast calculations. I didn't have a particular affinity for math as a young child, but right around the 8th grade when I got into guitar, I started excelling at math in school and ultimately prospered through a Chemical Engineering degree in college. I'm not sure there's a causal relationship, and my case may be more anecdotal than anything, but in retrospect, I always had a sense that intense practice and musical performance "awakened" my math potential in some way. More recently, the study above demonstrated there's the science to prove it.
Can You Measure the Value of Music Lessons?
It's tough to put a financial value on such a quantitative topic. So are there any guarantees that my kids will do any better in school because they took piano lessons? Are they guaranteed to get into a better college or get a scholarship? Of course not. But for the equivalent of just a single year of private school that so many parents spend their money on, I can give each kid 10 years of music lessons. Aside from an appreciation for music later in life and being able to "relate" to other instruments and musicians, they'll be more well-rounded and, perhaps like our current piano teacher, they'll have an extra way to earn money on the side as an adult!
Do you think music lessons are worth it?