(SURPRISE! THEY AREN’T ALL MUSICIANS)
Classical music is powerful. It’s the most effective genre for teaching the fundamentals of music and building strong technique. Studying classical music teaches you the basics of rhythm, pitch, and timbre; instills good form; and sets you up with an understanding of music theory. Start with classical music and you’ll be ready to take on any other genre.
But it’s also an art form that has an immense impact outside of the realm of music. Through studying classical music, students learn discipline, resilience, self-expression, and self-confidence. It supports brain development and gives you the tools to find success in whatever career path you pursue.
From leaders of the United States to Grammy-winning pop stars and the first person on the moon, you never know what people may have in common! This list offers a mere snapshot of successful people who studied classical music. Each of them put the perseverance, discipline, attention to detail and all that they learned from classical music study into stunning careers. Some people on the list might surprise you!
is a singer and songwriter whose songs focus on a broad range of culturally relevant topics. A classically trained singer, she was admitted to the Peabody Institute at the age of 5. Amos believes Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms to be the Jimi Hendrix’s of their times—true musical rebels!
Paul Allen is one of the cofounders of Microsoft and helped to spark the microcomputer revolution that introduced modern computing. He studied violin growing up, eventually switching to electric guitar which he continued to play for the rest of his life. He praised the benefits of making music, saying: “[Music] reinforces your confidence in the ability to create. Something is pushing you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.”
Neil Armstrong, the first person to land on the moon in 1969, took up the baritone horn in high school and continued playing throughout his life.
Awkwafina, born Nora Lum, is a third-generation Asian American who studied classical music and jazz at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in Queens, New York. There, she learned to play the trumpet and adopted her stage name as a rapper. Since then, Awkwafina has gone on to release music, star in film and television roles, and receive numerous awards and nominations for her work. In 2017, she received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical for her performance in The Farewell.
Pat Benatar was a coloratura soprano as a teen before finding success as a rock singer and songwriter, winning four Grammy’s for her 80s hits like “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”.
Albert Einstein is a forever-renowned physicist, and he was extremely talented at both the piano and violin. He used to say that if he hadn’t pursued science, he would have been a musician. Even in science, he turned to music to help him solve problems when he got stuck.
One of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin is often remembered as a writer, printer, and inventor. He also played the violin, harp, and guitar and composed chamber music.
Alan Greenspan is an economist who served as chair of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006. He studied clarinet at Juilliard and was a part of the Woody Herman band.
Jonny Greenwood is a guitarist and keyboardist of the revered rock group Radiohead and composer of film scores. Growing up, he played the viola and was a part of youth orchestras as a teen.
While Elton John is known for his pop and soul tunes, he spent years studying classical music during his time at London’s Royal Academy of Music where he focused on the piano and sang in the choir. He says classical music strongly influenced his music, advocates for the study of the art form, and funds a scholarship for eight students to attend the Royal Academy each year.
Pop sensation and self-professed “band geek” Lizzo began studying flute as a kid and still incorporates the woodwind instrument into her performances to this day.
Trumpet player and multi-instrumentalist Will Miller of indie folk band Whitney and experimental jazz project Resavoir got his start studying trumpet and learning the fundamentals of music right here at Merit School of Music.
Tito Puente—often referred to as “The King of Latin Music”—is best known for his cha-cha hits like “‘Oye Cómo Va” and “Ran Kan Kan” that helped to bring Latin American music into the mainstream. Puente started piano lessons at seven years old, played saxophone for his ship’s band during his time in the US Navy, and studied conducting, orchestration, and music theory at Juilliard.
Condoleezza Rice was the first Black female Secretary of State and the first woman to serve as the National Security Advisor. Although she ended up majoring in political science, she originally went to college with the goal of being a concert pianist. Throughout her career, she’s relied on classical music to center herself and unwind.
Nina Simone was a prolific musician and civil rights activist whose music spanned genres including blues, jazz, R&B, folk, and pop. She began learning piano at a young age, going on to study classical music at Juilliard.
Prolific film director Steven Spielberg played the clarinet in his grade school and high school band. Spielberg worked closely with composer John Williams on many of the scores for his films and even made a cameo playing the clarinet in the orchestra for Jaws.
World-famous DJ and record producer Zedd started receiving a classical education on the piano at age four. He recently worked with a 50-piece orchestra to perform his electronic music live.
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