Luck is not chance, it’s toil. Fortune’s expensive smile is earned. ~ Emily Dickinson

Mr. Ahrens teaches band & choir at Bear River High School in Grass Valley, CA.


Site Visitors


Sound Education Legal

Creative Commons License & Sound Education are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Life Lesson #11: Connecting Emotion

Performing, listening to, and enjoying great music are their own rewards. But most people recognize that there are many additional life lessons learned while studying music. We discussed these lessons in a recent #MusEdChat session on Twitter. This series of blog posts contains my reflections on that discourse. From that conversation, I am quoting band director/ composer Travis J. Weller in this post. Please be sure to follow him on Twitter, but also search #MusEdChat on Twitter to interact with other very inspirational educators. Thank you to all of those who participated in the discussion.

Music Life Lesson #11: Connecting Emotion

While many of the lessons that music teaches us can be predicted and quantified, there are certainly elements of surprise, spontaneity, and uniqueness in what we are taught as well. This makes music exciting. One such unexpected lesson may be a sudden emotional connection to or perhaps an epiphany about the music listened to or played. Our emotionalism connects all humanity together, and yet is at the same time something profoundly personal. We can be led to experience emotions in art but this can not be taught objectively in the way we teach science or mathematics.

The craft of music is generally taught prior to the art of music. Students begin their studies at an age where an appreciation for music’s humanity has not yet been developed. (Some never achieve this). It is our duty as educators to assist student musicians in connecting their personal expression and emotions to what may be to them simply a physical and mental exercise.

@travisjweller: But we as educators can capture that emerging moment, and begin the conversation where feelings can become something tangible.

In a perfect world, a child should learn to connect emotionally with art prior to ever picking up a horn and certainly before learning to read music. The demands of theory comprehension and instrument facility often push the heart of music aside. Many quit before ever getting to the point of being able to express themselves through performance. How many more students might we have and what better musicianship if the emphasis were placed from the start on what moves us emotionally.

@travisjweller: … we unlock emotional templates in students that they may be unaware that they possess.

The personal reflection and gut-level response that occurs with the appreciation and study of music is really a lesson in what it means to be human. Regardless of the range of emotions that music may bring, it always brings me great joy. The fear and anger that comes out of the brutal passion of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is as wonderful as the solemn sadness of Barber’s Adagio for Strings or the pure jubilance of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony 9. The life within the music resonates with our lives – in a very physical way but also with our memories, our desires, our aspirations.

@travisjweller: Students may not understand why the hair on the neck is standing up, or why tears are forming.

I submit that a child who experiences this true connection with the art of music is forever changed for the better. They are a better musican. Their lives are enriched. This alone is enough to warrant the study of music by every child.


This is part 11 of a 12 part series.
photo credit: WickedVT

The full series of Life Lessons:

  1. Work Ethic / Discipline
  2. Perseverance
  3. Listening
  4. Critical Thinking
  5. Getting Along
  6. Situational Awareness
  7. Personal Responsibility / Punctuality
  8. Self-Confidence
  9. Leadership
  10. Setting Goals
  11. Connecting Emotion
  12. The Love of Music


Be Kind/Retweet

  • Motleymuse

    Great post, words to teach and live by!

    • David Ahrens

      Thanks, Joanna!

  • Pingback: Music Education Blog Carnival for May 2011 | Education in Music

  • T.K. Goforth

    This is excellent, David! It is so true that so many people quit their instrument without really “putting themselves” into it. It is such a subjective endeavor, and to find ways for each student to express themselves is also a challenge, but rewarding when the light goes on!

  • Leslie Denning

    Hi David. I’m so glad to have found your blog. I have to go back to Part 1 and start reading. I love this article, and it is the hardest concept to get across. When I taught band, I taught the kids to listen to the traces of music in the air that remained just after the final cutoff, and that seemed to grab some of them. This article makes me realize that I need to do more of that in my private lessons. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Wishing you a song in your heart,
    Miss Leslie @ Music with Miss

  • Travis J. Weller

    David – just found this again tonight. This is a great article even without those quotes! Great stuff as usual!