Study shows link between music & brain plasticity

A recent research study on the linkage between the arts and brain development shows that students of music have definite structural changes in happening in students who practice as little as 15 minutes a day.

So, I’m not making this all up!  It’s really true.

From the Baltimore Sun article:

Charles Limb, a Johns Hopkins doctor and a jazz musician, studied jazz musicians by using imaging technology to take pictures of their brains as they improvised. He found that they allowed their creativity to flow by shutting down areas that regulated inhibition and self-control. So are the most creative people able to shut down those areas of the brain?

Most of the new research is focusing on the networks of the brain that are involved in specific tasks, said Michael Posner, a researcher at the University of Oregon. Posner has studied the effects of music on attention. What he found, he said, was that in those students who showed motivation and creativity, training in the arts helped develop their attention and their intelligence. The next great focus in this area, he said, is on proving the connection that most scientists believe exists between the study of music and math ability.

The imaging is now so advanced that scientists can already see the difference in the brain networks of those who study a string instrument and those who study the piano intensely.

This Is Why I Teach Music

This is a wonderful piece that has been published many times.  It reflects how I feel about teaching and the wonderful teachers I have had in my life.

That Is Why We Teach Music

Not because we expect you to major in music
Not because we expect you to play or sing all your life
Not so you can relax
Not so you can have fun

BUT

so you will be human

so you will recognize beauty
so you will be sensitive
so you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world
so you will have something to cling to
so you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good–in short, more life

Of what value will it be to make prosperous living unless you know how to live?

THAT IS WHY WE TEACH MUSIC.

– Author Unknown

Thank you to the late great Andy Blackett, Pete Brasch, Sal Piccolo, Mark Elf, Dan Converse, Seth Shapiro, Gene Bertoncini, Ron Sadoff, Pat Castle, Rudolph Palmer, Lucy Galliher, Katie Agresta, Conrad Cummings, David Speer, Joe Lovano, Phil Gushee and all the other teachers formal and informal,  in my life who have given so much to my life.

A First Lesson for Piano – Video Clip

If you are currently taking lessons with me, you will know this as the Peanut Butter Sandwich or the Mississippi Hot Dog.

It’s a great first lesson for anyone studying the piano, regardless of age, as it builds finger strength, independence and gets your hands in the proper position.  So much of music is based on muscle memory.  So you may as well get it right from the start without all the bad habits that can lead to muscle fatigue or carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis.

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Essential Reading for Parents of Music Students

Talent is not inherited. The first month in a nightingale's life determines its fate...I had always thought that a nightingale's incomparable song was instinctive or inherited. But it is not so. Nightingales to be used as pets are taken as fledglings from nest of wild birds in the spring. As soon as they lose their fear and accept food, a "master bird" is borrowed that daily sings its lovely song, and the infant bird listens for a period of a about a month. In this way the little wild bird is trained by the master bird...It is not a matter of being born a good singer or a bad singer...the life force has a wonderful power to adapt to environment.

Link between music and academic achievement

A new study in the journal Social Science Quarterly reveals that music participation, defined as music lessons taken in or out of school and parents attending concerts with their children, has a positive effect on reading and mathematic achievement in early childhood and adolescence.

10 Tips For Parents To Help Their Children Learn Music

Many parents have expressed their frustration at getting their child to practice their musical instrument.  Here’s some tips to help.

  1. Re-frame the notion of practice from chore to a fun activity or even a reward.  Don’t force them to practice, it will only drive them away from it.
  2. Place the piano in a central part of the home.  If a guitar, put it on a stand in the living room, or even hang it on the wall like in the guitar stores.  All instruments have some kind of stand you can buy.  By having it out and in easy reach, the instrument naturally gets picked up at various times of the day.   If the instrument is in a far off corner of the house, it feels like a banishment or punishment.
  3. Make a consistent time of music time everyday.  Some people have found 5 minutes in the morning before school is a great thing.  Others find right after school or just before bed.  By having a regular schedule, it becomes a habit and that makes it easier to have consistent and frequent time at the instrument.
  4. Take interest in your child’s playing (even if it’s awful).  By giving attention, the child feels rewarded and they will get better – really, I promise!
  5. Ask them to teach you the lesson (even if you already know it.)  By teaching, the child has to be able to organize their thoughts and really know how to communicate the knowledge.  They learn by teaching.  This may work better with one parent than the other when one is a musician and the other not.

At What Age To Start Music Lessons?

As a teacher of music, this is a common question I hear.  Every child is unique and while there is no one right answer, I can offer a few guidelines.

ABCs

One of the first “games” I play with my younger students is to have them order the letters of the alphabet.  This is a chance for them to show off their knowledge, build confidence and break the ice with their new teacher.  I do this by giving them a stack of flash cards, each with one letter on it.  By connecting this to the musical alphabet, there’s usually an “a-ha” moment.   So if you’re child knows their ABCs, it will be easier to connect the dots to the musical alphabet.

Interest

Having a child who is passionate about music is probably the most important thing.  The amount of time required to master these new skills and concepts is great.  Has your child been asking about music lessons?  Do you listen to music around the house?  Does your child sing spontaneously?  If so, these are all great signs that your child is ready for more musical challenges and instruction.

Fine Motor Skills

Many kids, especially younger ones, have difficulty controlling different fingers.  With these children, I usually spend more time on singing, clapping and movement activities designed to internalize basic music concepts.  With piano, these kids can play melodies with one finger.  Other instruments may need to wait.

Which Instrument?

Voice is the instrument we already own.  With all of my students,

The Goal of Beginning Music Lessons

My goal with my beginning music students is to

  1. Ignite the passion, fun and excitement of music within
  2. Introduce the names of the notes
  3. Connect those notes to their location on their instrument
  4. Connect those notes to standard written notation
  5. Through achievements, build their sense of self confidence and self worth.
  6. Have fun

To go through these steps, I have a variety of techniques and methods.  Steps 1 and 2 are usually not a problem.  If you know only the first 7 letters of your ABCs you know all the names of the notes in music.  Connecting those note names, A-B-C-D-E-F-G to where they lie on a guitar or piano or xylophone can be a challenge, especially for 3 to 5 year olds.  Once students know where the notes are on the instrument, we can make music and the fun begins!

I have experimented with many methods out there.  One method is to use color to correlate note names to keys.   I’ve been doing this with some of my younger students with great results. This is not synesthesia, where a person actually perceives one sense with matched with another like say “middle C is always a certain hue of red.”  It’s using what is readily available as a transmission system that is highly developed in all but the color-blind.

However, there is a caveat.  One has to know when to remove the “crutch of color” to allow the student to walk on their own.  Otherwise they never progress to the next level.

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you all a musical and happy holiday season!

For most of you, our regular lesson schedule will continue after the New Year.

See you then and keep practicing!