Does Learning a Musical Instrument Instill Leadership?

‘Do we have enough leaders in our society?’ or ‘Do we expect everyone to be a follower?’ If the later, then who do we follow? What constitutes a great leader?

Leaders are those who:

  • Create inspiration that followers want to emulate
  • Take great initiative and are proactive
  • Cultivate collaboration and a team work spirit
  • Make and execute a decision and are not afraid of making a mistake
  • Always seek and strive for improvement if not perfection
  • Confident to execute a task without second guessing themselves
  • Take lead and steer followers in the right direction, albeit sometimes leaders don’t always lead rather they facilitate and empower others to act plus many more

How do we train or produce leaders? Schools of business and large corporate companies provide courses for hopeful leaders. Do these courses and training alone make a leader, and if so, how effective is that leader? Or could that leadership skill be cultivated and instilled starting at a pre-school age?  I fervently believe that leadership is a quality that can be taught starting at a tender young age at home and school.

I am born to very traditional Asian parents where everything was decided for me. I believe that ‘telling’ a child what and how to do things creates a ‘spoon fed’ mentality and doesn’t teach them to make decisions. I was taught that a child is to be seen only and not be heard. In that environment a child is not given the ownership to think or to have choices for themselves.  This control is sometimes in force right into adulthood for as long as the aged parents are still alive!  Contrarily, non-asian families typically provide a more nurturing environment whereby encouraging their child to make decisions for themselves by giving them options. This cultivates a sense of taking responsibility for themselves. I recall seeing a little girl a few years ago, not more than 5 years old at a café, where she was asked what she would love to have for her treat.  It made me think back to my childhood where I would have been given my treat with no decision on my part involved.  Personally, it was not until I was sent abroad to the UK at the age of 19 to pursue my music education did I have the freedom to make decisions. The transition of suddenly being left alone to decide for myself on day-to-day aspects of life I found was extremely challenging. I was constantly seeking approval and advice before I acted upon any decision. Although, I have now become my own person through my musical training and years of living independently away from my traditional parents, there are still moments where I still seek that approval from them and other sources on day-to-day affairs which sometimes leads to confusion and delays in making the final decision.

The little girl and the cake choosing moment was a prime example of introducing a leadership skill by enabling someone a choice and putting the onus of responsibility to choose for themselves. It does not matter whether it is choosing a piece of cake, deciding what cartoon to watch or which musical instruments to learn, the point is, the embryo of the leadership cultivation begins at that time!

As a parent we can also cultivate leadership in our children from a musical training perspective simply by allowing him/her to learn a few musical instruments of their own choice so that they can make their own decision on the instrument that they are most interested to learn. This is the initial step of empowering someone to make a choice. The subsequent question that legitimately comes to mind of every parent is ‘if I invest in an instrument, will my child practice?’ A lot of parents set the timer and the child simply practices for the sake of fulfilling the allocated time that they and their teacher decide for them. Providing them the opportunity to choose an instrument will hopefully provide them the drive to regularly practice.  Paul Harris, the leading British Music Educator and Celebrity Teacher supports this thought by stating that: encouraging putting the onus of responsibility on a child to decide what they wish to practice and how long they practice promotes proactivity and initiates the leadership qualities that I listed previously.

As music training progresses and develops, it involves learning and practicing on a broader scope such as:

  • making decisions on what fingerings to apply,
  • the tempo to use,
  • performance practice issues,
  • tone and sound quality,
  • individual stylistic interpretations or how to express a phrase to reflect what the performer wishes to convey while preserving the integrity of the composer’s intention and keeping the musical piece as authentic as possible.

All these considerations are what give a performance its unique rendition on stage. An artist who performs the compositions is empowered to take ownership of all these elements, making an executive decision to interpret the music and take the audacity to be innovative and creative. Leadership extends beyond a musician performing as a soloist on stage to a conductor of an orchestra or playing in a chamber group, a band or a full orchestra. In these settings collaborative thinking and cooperation is required for a successful well received performance. An artistic and successful performance relies on the unique and individual interpretation of the musical work which sets each artist apart from one and other.

So it is my belief that we cultivate leadership qualities at a raw and tender age in musical trainings. Many social leaders in both England and the North America consider learning music as essential in the raising of good citizens and civic leaders.  Musical training encourages one to think and take ownership of their creation, enabling them to act and empower one to lead. You are not born to be a leader but you can be trained to become one!

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