The Best Christmas Gift
Posted 12/21/2012 1:43:00 PM

My father, being a classic Chicago Southside Irishman, had lots of great sayings that he would share with me as often as he could. One of these gems that I would frequently hear near Christmas and birthdays was “You know son, often the best gifts, the ones that really make a difference in our lives, are the ones we didn’t even know we wanted.”

Note: I usually heard this right before I unwrapped a package of new socks. You see, as with most of my fathers wisdom, he would love to hide it in a joke and then give you the slightest wink to let you know he meant more than you might think. And as usual, he was correct.

As parents, we want to give our children something that they will be excited to receive, something that they really want, something that will make them smile and bring them joy. When I grew up, it was new bikes, catcher’s mitts, or a sweet pump action pellet gun. Often these days, the solution is to pick up a cool new electronic gadget, video game system, smart phone, HD camera, Bluray disc, or laptop computer… And there is nothing wrong with any of those ideas.

I do however have an option that can blow them all away – The Gift of Music.

Video games get old, and once you play them your pretty much done. Computers become outdated. Even that old bike will rust away in time. But learning to play an instrument is a gift that can truly last a whole lifetime.

"If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a better horse" – Henry Ford.

Young kids might not have even considered playing a musical instrument, but that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t jump up and down once they open a brand new guitar, or keyboard, or drum set. Ask anyone who has been lucky enough to receive an instrument for Christmas and they will certainly tell you it was one of their most memorable gifts.

But wait.. there’s more! Did you know that…

  1. Early musical training helps develop brain areas involved in language and reasoning.
  2. Recent studies show that students who study music are more successful on standardized tests such as the SAT. They also achieve higher grades in high school.
  3. Researchers found that as musicians age, they experience the same decline in peripheral hearing, the functioning of the nerves in their ears, as nonmusicians. But older musicians preserve the brain functions; the central auditory processing skills that can help you understand speech against the background of a noisy environment.
  4. Music provides children with a means of self-expression.
  5. A research team exploring the link between music and intelligence reported that music training is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children's abstract reasoning skills, the skills necessary for learning math and science.
  6. A University of California (Irvine) study showed that after eight months of keyboard lessons, preschoolers showed a 46% boost in their spatial reasoning
  7. Data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 showed that music participants received more academic honors and awards than non-music students, and that the percentage of music participants receiving As, As/Bs, and Bs was higher than the percentage of non- participants receiving those grades.

I could go on and one with these important facts, but the most important fact of all – Playing Music is FUN!

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have been broke, stuck at home, and simply picked up my guitar and played for hours. Some of my favorite memories are playing music with my friends. Some of the best compliments I have ever received were from people who enjoyed hearing me play. The rewards are endless.

Ok, so you’re on board. “Capone, how do I pick the right instrument?”

Look, there is no right or wrong answer. The good news is that today entry level instruments like guitar, bass, and keyboards are inexpensive. I suggest heading into your local Guitar Center, Sam Ash, or small hometown music store. All of them will have special packages that are setup perfect for the new student. Most cost between $100 and $200, and include everything that they need to start playing. If your not sure, ask the sales person, they love to help out with this stuff.

For guitars and basses, I recommend starter kits by Gibson, Fender, Epiphone, and Ibanez. There are many others that will also work fine, those are just my preferences. Make sure the kit includes a tuner, if not; they make a great stocking stuffer.

So, you picked out an inexpensive instrument you think they might like to learn. Fantastic! Now the most important part… LESSONS!

The joy of opening that instrument will soon fade if they can’t learn to play it. Banging on it for a couple of minutes Christmas morning is cool, but they will want to hear music that very day. For this reason, I recommend making sure you include a DVD instruction book. Some of the kits I mentioned earlier might include one, if not, pick one up as an extra gift. Again, the sale people can help you pick up a good starter DVD with lessons book. Many of us used good ol Mel Bay, but today there are other great options.

Now, VERY IMPORTANT.. Sign them up for some weekly lessons. Learning from another player is the best way to move forward. Pick somebody local. Most of your local music stores will be a perfect spot to start.

When my parents asked if I wanted to learn to play an instrument I said “Anything but the guitar”. I had to be original and I thought the world already had too many guitar players - a bold thought for a 10 year old in 1975. Ironically, my parents purchased me an acoustic guitar from Consolidated Music in Barrington Illinois. The sales person showed me my first G chord.

You know, that same music store is still open today, and I’m proud to say that I have been playing guitar ever since. Playing music has brought me new friends, new opportunities, and a wealth of life memories that I could never have acquired in any other way.

From the moment your child opens that instrument on Christmas morning and bangs out their first note or rhythm, even if by accident, they will have become something else. They will have joined an elite fraternity. They will have become a musician.

I recently wrote “Even the greatest musical journey starts this same way. A young player holds the instrument for the fist time, plucks a string, a smile forms, the imagination soars, a fire is lit, and the path has begun.”

My musical journey has been amazing, and it all started with a simple G chord taught by a sales girl at Consolidated Music in Barrington 37 years ago. I hope your child’s musical journey starts on Christmas morning this year. Now, more than ever, the world needs more musicians.


Patrick Capone


Ps. If you need any help, feel free to write me an email. I’m always more than happy to help out a new musician.

Posted By: Pat  

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