Piano Playing Helps Kids Declare Their Independence

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


What comes to mind when you hear the word “independence” in the context of a person? Most likely you imagine someone who’s self-confident, making their own decisions, boldly navigating life on a path they’ve chosen without unduly depending on others or fearing obstacles that may come their way.

When children play piano, they’re learning how to become independent, experts note. First off, they’re doing something alone; they’re solving problems, memorizing information, making decisions, taking constructive criticism from a teacher and gradually becoming confident enough to share their work with others.

Playing an instrument helps a child’s brain develop “executive function,” a hallmark of independent thinking, according to a number of studies. Experts define executive function as the set of processes that allow you to manage yourself and your resources in order to achieve a goal. Executive function includes the skills you need to have mental control, self-discipline and self-regulation. In a 2009 study, Canadian psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Anne-Marie DePape found trained musicians exhibited better executive function as they performed various nonverbal spatial tasks than people who were not musically trained.

Meanwhile other studies have shown learning how to play an instrument as a child develops a student’s self-esteem and confidence, even if he or she only studies an instrument for one year. So don’t worry if your child is not the next Chopin or Rachmaninov – if a youngster simply takes the time to learn an instrument, those hours of practice will eventually pay off in all areas of their life where they must show discipline and concentration.

The big reason why playing piano, or any other instrument for that matter, helps children become independent is because it stretches them to do things they couldn’t do before. For example, according to Dr. Nadine Gaab of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, author of a study on music and the brain, music training helps a child’s brain develop faster than it would were the student not learning music.

“Musicians, both children and adults, had better executive functioning skills than non-musicians, and … the brain of the child with musical training showed more activation and looked more mature in terms of executive functioning networks.”