As a parent, one of the best things that I can hope for is that my children have the wherewithal to make their way through life armed with a wide variety of skills and a “can-do” mindset.  As a teacher, school leader, and professor, I have seen way too many young adults who are incapable of navigating their way through “real world” problems, and need someone’s help (usually mine or their parents’) — many times for the smallest things.

Parents protect and handle so much for their children these days that they prevent them from growing into the people they want them to become.  Amongst other things, we do math and English homework for our children and call up teachers when the final grade isn’t to our liking.  Ultimately, however, what we are really doing over time is preventing our children from acquiring “self-efficacy”.

Self-efficacy is defined as having the belief in our abilities to complete a task, reach goals, and manage situations.  The journey towards self-efficacy for my children began when they were born, of course.  But school — and the way I help them (or don’t help them) navigate school — is where self-efficacy can truly be learned.

While every subject has its own peripheral life lessons, instrumental music instruction is one of the most incredible ways to learn skills that lead to self-efficacy, and parents would be wise to ensure that their children experience this instruction in their K-12 schooling.

Here are ways that learning to play an instrument builds self-efficacy:

Parents can’t do the homework for their child.   Whereas parents can build a diorama or part of a science experiment, edit a book report, or do a math problem for their child, they can’t play their instrument for them.  Parents need to find a “parenting sweet spot” when helping their child with music; they can set high expectations and insist on daily practice, but give their child the freedom to explore, fail, make their own choices, and — most important — figure things out for themselves.  We all want our children to develop competencies and confidence, and improving at a musical instrument is an incredible tool to accomplish this.

Children will fail, and that’s okay.  Parents do a lot — both consciously and not — to prevent their children from experiencing failure.  Life is more happily lived when we realize that we won’t get things right all the time, but with the “high-stakes” school culture that exists today it is hard to teach this.  Learning a musical instrument allows students to accept their own imperfections and gives parents an opportunity to accept theirs as well.  It’s the one chance during the school day that failure in a safe environment can happen — it’s a gift that we all should not overlook.

Instrumental music teaches life skills.  Getting to places on time, being in charge of one’s music and instrument, and contributing to a larger community are life skills that are taught through musical ensembles.  Kids who have their hands held throughout life are delayed in learning these crucial skills.  Luckily for parents, student learn that their actions matter and that they control larger outcomes when they play in a musical ensemble.  This is quite different from other classes, where if they don’t “make the grade” they often hurt no one else but themselves.

Students have to play during the school day.  Play is absolutely key to learning, but it is slowly slipping away from our schools.  Because of the large amount of time and energy directed toward testing and grading, school leaders tend to see play in school as risky and unproductive.  Instrumental music instruction enables students to learn through play while also fitting the bill as far as creating measurable results that school leaders crave.  Parents who support their child in instrumental music instruction send a message to their children and their schools that play is an incredibly important part of learning.

Students learn work ethic.  Most parents dream of their kids growing up to be hard workers who like to see jobs through to completion;  adults who are active citizens who are determined to do a good job.  Playing a musical instrument in an ensemble is a transformative experience in this regard.  Whereas many kids sigh and fuss when they have to do chores or other school work, they are rewarded greatly when they perform a piece of music as part of an ensemble.  In the music making process, students learn:

  • responsibility for contributing to the work of the ensemble;
  • autonomy in handling personal practice outside of the group;
  • accountability to attain a certain level quality in a specific amount of time;
  • determination to play at a high level;
  • perseverance when times get tough.

Students learn how to think.  We hear schools talk about “critical thinking” everywhere we turn — it’s a huge buzz term.  Our education system is constantly scrambling to develop curricula so students learn to think more creatively as opposed to following instructions and completing rote tasks.  While schools struggle to update this curricula, instrumental music has been there all along — defying the “teach to the test” mentality that has undermined thinking and student growth for years.

All parents want to raise their children well.  We want to foster independence and give our children tools to learn self-efficacy in order to thrive as adults.  As long as instrumental music instruction is offered as part of the school day, it remains one of the best ways for kids to learn to be great thinkers, citizens, innovators and human beings.  Parents who find it challenging to instill these habits of mind in their children will be amazed at the power of instrumental music instruction, and would be wise to support their child’s musical studies throughout their school lives.

About the Author

A GRAMMY® nominated music educator, ANTHONY MAZZOCCHI has performed as a trombonist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony, San Diego Symphony, San Diego Opera, Riverside Symphony, Key West Symphony, in various Broadway shows and numerous recordings and movie soundtracks. Tony has served as faculty or as a frequent guest lecturer at The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, New York University, and Mannes College of Music. He has taught grades 4-college and has served as a school district administrator of fine and performing arts. Tony has been a consultant for arts organizations throughout the NY/NJ area. He is currently Associate Director of the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University in New Jersey and Co-Executive Director of the Kinhaven Summer Music School in Weston, Vermont with his wife, Deborah. To read more from this author, please see his book, The Music Parents’ Guide : A Survival Kit for the New Music Parent. It is available at

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