Mark and I are both musicians – he professional and I amateur – so it was a given that our children would learn an instrument. When our eldest, Tom, was eight and Peter six we approached Rosie to teach them both the piano. We never questioned the fact that this would happen, despite Tom having Down ’s syndrome. Fortunately, Rosie didn’t question it either (at least she didn’t share her concerns or uncertainty at the time!) so the lessons began. When we embarked on this it was because we knew that music plays an important part in all our lives, and we knew intimately the joy that music brings to us all. What we didn’t know at the outset, and which only became apparent as time wore on, was the impact it would have on Tom’s development.
The most immediately noticeable detail was the improvement in Tom’s fine motor skills. Someone with Down’s syndrome may have poor muscle tone, with short stubby fingers. The exercise which Tom unwittingly gave his fingers as he practised his tunes with enthusiasm and enjoyment had a considerable and long-lasting effect on the muscle tone and overall dexterity of his fingers – tying shoelaces, doing up buttons, writing and so on became easier. What was more subtle was the impact it had on language and overall cognitive development. His language became more complex, structuring more elaborate sentences and understanding more complicated passages both written and verbal.
It’s a given that Tom’s musical sophistication grew and matured throughout – how could it not. But more importantly was the overall development and maturation of his personality. Learning to play the piano expanded his self-confidence and self-esteem. He learnt to interact with others in a way which couldn’t have happened without it. Learning a musical instrument involves the whole body and mind. The holistic nature of this influences anyone who does so – perhaps the more challenges one has to face the more of an impact it has.