BOND last week took part in recording new string syllabus material for ABRSM. Eos (second violin) feeling inspired wrote a blog regarding why learning an instrument as a child helps development.  

BOND last week took part in recording new string syllabus material for ABRSM. Eos (second violin) feeling inspired wrote a blog regarding why learning an instrument as a child helps development.  

I had cause to reflect recently on the effect that playing a musical instrument has had on my life.

My daughter is now close to the age I was when I first started to play* the violin (*I use the term loosely), so I'm weighing up the pros and cons of launching her on the same path I trod.

It seems so young- the nappy bin sits unused but not yet disposed of, as the firsts few notes would be dragged from her tiny violin's strings. Indeed I remember my first violin lesson aged 4, my teacher tying string across the room for me to match the correct angle for my bow. It all seemed very exciting, like I was being let in on a huge secret. Both my mother and sister already played musical instruments, (flute and violin respectively) and I wanted to join in. But then came the practice. urgh.

So- on the pro side:

  • It's great for brain development -There's wealth of scientific evidence that playing a musical instrument at a young age is beneficial to brain development, helping sparks zing between the right and left brain hemispheres, artistic and mathematical. This is an excellent thing of course that has far reaching implications beyond music. I'm not exactly sure what- ask a brain scientist person.

*It can be lots of fun with the right teacher

* Learning an instrument is great for motor skills and coordination- think rubbing your tummy and patting your head, multiplied a gazillion (that’s the actual maths).

* Mental and emotional health- it opens the door to a world of emotional communication that is beyond any spoken language. This is especially beneficial when the child becomes a teenager. True of course you get an element of this feeling from listening to other people's music too- but to be able to make or perform that music yourself- it's another level.

I remember as a teenager playing yearning and melancholic tunes to nobody in particular,  just...outwards... and I can still feel the sense of catharsis and relief that afforded my teenage self now, aged… *cough*.

*It's something other than usual schoolwork, being both a physical and mental activity that doesn't involve screens (to be fair if I was writing this as a 4 year old that bit would probably go in the con pile).

* You get a sense of achievement as each new milestone is reached,   with the exams (I always did ABRSM exams) being both something to work towards, and good opportunity to play to people (examiners) who aren't allowed to run away. Double win!

  • You learn how to work with people, accompanists, and other musicians, when playing in an ensemble or an orchestra. You learn how to take constructive criticism without taking offence and how to give constructive criticism without causing offence (this is especially true of ensembles and orchestras- and as kids progress through the different levels when they start dealing with interpretation of music and musical phrasing)

* You learn when you have the melody, and when someone else has  the melody; when it’s your time to be heard, and when it’s your time to step back and let someone else be heard. (Could someone make learning a musical instrument compulsory for all MPs please thanks)

* It takes concentration to work through and 'program' into your mind the way to master a particular technique, or a tricky passage. This is invaluable as attention spans seem to be getting shorter by the oh look at that lovely leaf!

  • It teaches punctuality - take it from me, it's no fun turning up late to an orchestral rehearsal because the person who was giving you a lift there (yes you, mum) "needed to watch the end of Neighbours". As the door crashes open, 100 of your peer group turn round, tutting and shaking their heads as you slowly get your violin out of its case.. No. Fun. Also that taught me about the Cardiff bus timetable. Because I lived in Cardiff, you see. 

* It teaches self discipline but.... (con alert) 🚨


* self discipline comes into play a bit later. Initially at least, parents or carers have to encourage and I'd go as far as to say, even bribe children to practice. Note that I'm putting this in the con pile as a parent rather than as a child, in whose case it would probably count as a pro (free farm animal toys/icecream at the end of the week/insert bribe of choice here).

Let's stick with cons- we've had quite enough pros thank you.


* Money. There used to be much better funding for music- with schools having instruments and lessons being paid for by the local councils. Now, instruments can be hired rather than bought and at the older level there can be bursaries and foundations such as Music for Youth ( to help budding musicians who don't have the financial advantages that some do. I used to go busking from the age of 10, with my sister and friends from orchestra, and that actually paid quite well- but I very much doubt I used that money to pay my parents back for the lessons, instruments and petrol.

* Time. It takes time to progress, time to practice, have lessons and attend the groups. Time for the children and the parents. My parents were very busy, and my sister and I would practice our violins every day before school when we were little and just doing 30 minutes (we tried getting out of it but all attempts proved futile).  We got up earlier. I do like sleep though so...that's why this is in the con pile

* Pressure/ stress. It can be stressful and it's possibly not for everyone- but...

Pro  -avoidance of stress isn't necessarily good. It is good to venture out of your comfort zone from time to time because you might surprise yourself and discover you can do more than you thought you could. If you don't try you'll never know. It's also great practice for school exams because I always found those to be comparatively  much less exposing than standing up and playing in-front of an audience. I knew if I'd done the work, it would probably be ok. Unless I missed a whole section of the exam paper because I didn't see it. For example. *Post-Maths-GSCE-exam-tremors ensue*.

I found my main love of playing an instrument through playing in orchestras and chamber groups like string quartets- I loved being a part of something seemingly bigger than the sum of its parts- it felt like alchemy. It was only in my final year at school that I decided I wanted to go on to be a professional musician. I had also wanted to be an archeologist until someone pointed out that far from unearthing lost  dinosaurs, I'd be mostly uncovering a series of small walls, using a tiny paintbrush. I went on to study violin at the Royal College of Music which I loved, and straight after that I co-founded the string quartet, Bond- with our emphasis being on the enjoyment of music, combining the rigours of the classical world with a sense of fun and well, LOUDNESS of the pop world.

I've been in Bond for nearly 20 years now, writing, recording, touring, writing, recording, touring, over and over. We’ve being lucky enough to work with world-class musicians, singers, and composers. We have travelled all over the world. Strangely perhaps, Bond has become my safety net, my safe place beyond which I rarely venture.

So it really took me back to my childhood in July, when my Bond sister, Tania and I were invited by ABRSM to perform some of their new syllabus for 2020. It wasn't a vague sort of reminiscing: I was transported right back to the walk through the arcades, the shop entrance, narrow stairs leading up to the carpet-tiled ABRSM exam waiting room in Cardiff, where I'd clamber up onto the  plastic seats and wait for my name to be called,- I even had the same butterflies in my stomach! I even had to clamber up onto the seats! (I’m quite short)

Good luck, or if you prefer.. break a leg, to all those taking their ABRSM music exams soon, and to their parents and teachers.

Having given it some consideration-  I think I'll be joining you in a few years' time, holding my daughter's hand in exam-anticipation. Save us a seat!