Piano Playing Gives Kids Keys to Community

Play It Forward’s mission creates MAGIC in its students: Mental Wellness, Agility, Grit, Independence and Community. This week, PIF highlights Community.


For centuries, families, villages, tribes, cities and nations have united around songs and the instrumentalists who play them. Teaching children to play music can inspire them to bond with parents, siblings, teachers, fellow students and the audiences who listen to them.

Some of the ways learning to play piano helps build community are obvious – many people, for example, have gathered around a piano at a family party as a beloved relative tickles the ivories and leads a sing-along. And many folks have filled concert halls to hear a famed pianist perform, whether it’s someone like Little Richard pounding out blazing rock ‘n’ roll or someone like Chinese classical master Yuja Wang deftly delivering Beethoven’s sonatas.

Pianists and organists are the focal point of countless community gatherings. Some play music every Sunday in churches while others jam out every Saturday night in taverns and coffee shops or wherever people gather to share fellowship and good times.

And, of course, patrons and parents affiliated with Play It Forward have created a community within our community. PIF supporters and parents gather to hear students of the program perform recitals, forming new friendships with other PIF supporters or strengthening old ones in the process.

But what is it about playing music that helps children become part of their communities? For starters, experts note playing music develops a child’s self-confidence as well as their ability to interact with others. Numerous studies have concluded children who play piano, for example, build connections in their brain that help them process language and use communication skills better than they could have if they had not studied music. 

Music lessons can also help certain children who struggle with social interactions improve their social skills. For example, a 2015 study titled “Group Music Training and Children’s Prosocial Skills,” by Canadian academics concluded children who have difficulty in social situations can develop such “prosocial skills” as being able to comprehend others’ emotions, when taking group music lessons.

Then in 2019, researchers from India studied children with autism who were took part in musical therapy activities from singing to playing instruments. “(Musical therapy) helped in developing a form of communication for these children, which led to an improvement in their ability to understand, respond, and maintain their interaction with their peers,” the researchers wrote in an article published in The Egyptian Journal of Neurology, Psychiatry and Neurosurgery.

It should be stressed that teaching a child music is not a panacea – it takes more than a piano player to raise a village, so to speak – and no parent with a child who has difficulty integrating into society should expect a few piano lessons to suddenly turn them in an involved community member. However, it’s pretty clear steady dedication to playing music gives kids a great way to make friends over time and improve the chance they will want to be active members of whatever community in which they find themselves.