As a former musician who successfully transitioned into the business world and then became an entrepreneur, I had multiple friends forward me the link to this week’s New York Times article, “Is Music The Key To Success?”
My answer? Yes, for very specific reasons.
The article cites many famous leaders who took music lessons as children, and even more who, like me, pursued music professionally before transitioning into business. Alan Greenspan was a professional clarinetist, Condoleezza Rice a young concert pianist who played chamber music throughout her White House career. Many others, such as Steven Spielberg, studied music without pursuing it professionally. What did they learn that other people did not, and what does music have to teach you?
Music teaches discipline
The first and foremost benefit of music education is that it fosters discipline. To be successful as a musician, you must practice every day, and must learn very specific combinations of notes and rhythms. You must repeat complicated passages again and again until every facet is correct: your fingers are in the right place, you are inhaling and exhaling at the right time, you are controlling both your physical movements as well as the emotional sensitivity necessary to communicate the piece.
This type of discipline doesn’t begin when you are an adult. Even the earliest students, learning “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on violin, must accomplish all of these skills. This practice in discipline helps you focus on hard business-related tasks, such as creating a new product design or drafting a new annual budget.
Music teaches production
Business leaders and employees both often suffer from “analysis paralysis,” a specific type of procrastination and anxiety that prevents them from completing tasks and projects on time.
Musicians have no such luxury. From the earliest lessons, the student learns that Recital Day is exactly one month away, and on that day you must be able to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in front of family and friends, whether or not it is perfect.
Musicians learn to avoid analysis paralysis because they are forced to produce, often at very short notice. As a former choral accompanist for a large church, I would have to learn and master a new piece by Bach, Brahms, or Britten every week. Sometimes, if the piece were exceptionally difficult, I would go through the score and strike out all the musical notes that I needed to skip, in order to play the remainder of them on time. That’s project management.
Music fosters healthy competition and team building
There’s always someone who gets the solo, and someone who doesn’t. If you want the solo, you have to not only prepare harder than the other person, you also have to be the type of person that conductors and musical directors want to work with.
Despite the stereotypical assumption that all musicians are divas, most musicians learn quickly that it’s much better to be a team player — and even though only one member of the orchestra earns the position of concertmaster, it’s much better when everyone plays together as a team.
It’s the same in business. If you want the promotion, you not only have to work hard but also have to be a good colleague. To truly be successful, you have to understand how to use your skills to lead a team.
Start taking lessons now
The good news is it’s still possible to reap the benefits of music education as an adult, even if you never took a single music lesson as a child. Choose an instrument you like and look for teachers in your area, such as violin teachers in Los Angeles. (If you do not know which instrument to pick, violin and guitar are good choices, and both offer opportunities for solo as well as group performance).
Then use the skills you learn in the practice room to move you up the career ladder.