We all know there are benefits to playing a musical instrument.

In the first post of 4 here is Sarah, who teaches Ukulele here at Circus, explaining  the first benefit  an increase in “core” and manual strength and dexterity.

Whilst I assume that some  of the  more “social/ emotional/ spiritual” benefits could arise from playing any instrument or musical activity, it seems to me that the physical/ postural and dextral demands of this particular instrument; the ukulele, facilitates even MORE significant and broader  physical improvements as the player learns, particularly in terms of muscle tone of the hands, wrists, arms, and “core”.

This noticeable improvement in the “physicality” of a pupils dexterity, arm and core control is UTTERLY beneficial to ALL children. As a child’s dexterity increases, so too the child’s gross grip/  fine motor pencil grip and seated posture. This improvement leads to more “graphic control” and improved skill at drawing/ painting/ writing etc. Their “pinch” improves and the opposing finger and thumb pincer movement which is vital to many fine motor skill tasks that we all face, all through our lives. To children that show significantly reduced dextral strength/ dexterity and “core” control and children that exhibit aspects of dyspraxia, the action of sitting up, playing a ukulele appears to SIGNIFICANTLY enhance their development in these areas.

One of the first things to improve is the ability of the child to “connect” with their hands. In some cases, I have seen children apparently UNAWARE that there ARE hands on the end of their arms. Over a period of about 12 weeks the hands become less a  “flapping” appendage and more of a purposeful tool. They become more able to  “arch” their hand, as the hand muscles strengthen.  This  development of an “arch” is really significant as a child begins to “mark make” and grip mark making tools like brushes, pens and pencils. The ability to extend the fingers and yet STRONGLY and SECURELY grip a writing implement is key to becoming fluid and confident in letter formation and later, writing.

The associated development of “core” control and strength is vital to a child’s ability to support their upper body, helpfully, as they “mark make” and later write. A child whose upper body is constantly flopping and moving, finds it very hard to consistently form clear and consistent marks. To ensure an even and legible “handwriting” a child needs to be relatively still and stable as they write. Playing a ukulele, in a seated position requires significant core control and results in an increase of such control and strength. This benefits all children but certainly benefits a child with poor core strength associated, often, with dyspraxia.

There is alot of research to back these claims up.

Learning to Play Ukulele – Benefit 1

MANUAL DEXTERITY/ STRENGTH INCREASES. This leads to improved graphic skills, improved fine motor skills and a resultant increase in self confidence and willingness and determination when attempting new challenges of dexterity.

Hands are highly complex structures and weakness within the hand can make a significant immediate and long term impact upon a child’s life chances. Read the structural details of the hand and explore the musculature shown at the link to “The Inner Body”.

Explanation of the musculature and structural composition of a human hand taken from the INNER BODY website –

With special reference to the “Arch” of the hand, the lumbrical muscles are frequently significantly weaker and less effectual in children with poor dexterity or with dyspraxic like symptoms. This diagram explains the significance of the musculature

Dyspraxia is a condition that appears more readily recognised within the last 10 years and, even though ALL children can benefit from learning to play the ukulele, children with SIGNIFICANTLY poorer dexterity/ core body strength and hand eye co-ordination do show a subsequent improvement in body tension and manual dexterity over a 12 month period. Although my observations are informal and anecdotal they could be formally monitored and “measured” if a group of children were filmed over a period of a year or “before and after” dexterity tests were undertaken.

Taken from the website of Dyspraxia Foundation

Pre-school children – 3 to 5 year olds

SOME SYMPTOMS

Those highlighted in yellow appear to be significantly reduced in children.

If dyspraxia is not identified, problems can persist and affect the child’s life at school. Increasing frustration and lowering of self-esteem can result.

Children with dyspraxia may demonstrate some of these types of behaviour:

  • Very high levels of motor activity, including feet swinging and tapping when seated, hand-clapping or twisting. Unable to stay still
  • High levels of excitability, with a loud/shrill voice
  • May be easily distressed and prone to temper tantrums
  • May constantly bump into objects and fall over
  • Hands flap when running
  • Difficulty with pedaling a tricycle or similar toy
  • Lack of any sense of danger (jumping from heights etc)
  • Continued messy eating. May prefer to eat with their fingers, frequently spill drinks
  • Avoidance of constructional toys, such as jigsaws or building blocks
  • Poor fine motor skills. Difficulty in holding a pencil or using scissors. Drawings may appear immature
  • Lack of imaginative play. May show little interest in dressing up or in playing appropriately in a home corner or playhouse.
  • Limited creative play
  • Isolation within the peer group. Rejected by peers, children may prefer adult company
  • Laterality (left- or right-handedness) still not established
  • Persistent language difficulties
  • Sensitive to sensory stimulation, including high levels of noise, tactile defensiveness, wearing new clothes
  • Limited response to verbal instruction. May be slow to respond and have problems with comprehension
  • Limited concentration. Tasks are often left unfinished

By 7 years old problems may include:

  • Difficulties in adapting to a structured school routine
  • Difficulties in Physical Education lessons
  • Slow at dressing. Unable to tie shoe laces
  • Barely legible handwriting
  • Immature drawing and copying skills
  • Limited concentration and poor listening skills
  • Literal use of language
  • Inability to remember more than two or three instructions at once
  • Slow completion of class work
  • Continued high levels of motor activity
  • Hand flapping or clapping when excited
  • Tendency to become easily distressed and emotional
  • Problems with co-ordinating a knife and fork
  • Inability to form relationships with other children
  • Sleeping difficulties, including wakefulness at night and nightmares
  • Reporting of physical symptoms, such as migraine, headaches, feeling sick

By 8 to 9 years old

Children with dyspraxia may have become disaffected with the education system.

Handwriting is often a particular difficulty. By the time they reach secondary education their attendance record is often poor.

UNADDRESSED MANUAL WEAKNESS HAS A LONG TERM AFFECT ON THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC, EMOTIONAL AND SPIRITUAL SUCCESS OF A HUMAN.

Taken from Therapy Centre For Children-Suffolk County- Long Island New York

Proficiency in fine-motor control allows the child to develop skills that will have consequences immediately and in later life

Social Consequences. You cannot hide the way you move. Simple tasks such as tying laces or handling any utensils or objects can cause frustration and embarrassment. The child who has poor coordination begins to wonder why something that is natural and taken for granted is so difficult to perform.

Vocational Consequences. Because a number of vocations, including dentistry, secretarial work, cabinet making, and many others, have a large fine-motor component, the choices for the individual with fine-motor difficulties begin to diminish.

Academic Consequences. Quick and precise handling of concrete objects in mathematics and science becomes difficult. Precision and speed in handwriting and drawing tasks are minimized, affecting the amount of work being completed. When actions are not automatic, the available working memory and attentional space in the brain is taken up with concentrating on the movement rather than the concept being learned and practiced.

Psychological (Emotional) Consequences. Children with poor coordination often have unsuccessful experiences in physical activities. As a consequence, they can develop frustration, a fear of failure, and rejection which in turn can lead to the development of a negative self-concept and avoidance behaviors. This can dramatically affect classroom performance not only in the fine motor area but in other areas as well.

Research tells us that a child’s attitude toward learning in a particular area is at least as important as a child’s ability in that area.

The above information is taken from the Family Education Website.