Monthly Archives: April 2014

There is Room for Music and Sports

Children can benefit from beginner piano lessons. So before you dismiss this as an alternative activity to sports, read this article.
The fact that simply listening to Mozart at a young age can dramatically enhance a young child’s intellectual capabilities is still in debate. But there is no question that learning to play Mozart on the piano can be exceptionally beneficial to young children. Many parents today look to sports as positive influences on their children’s motor and concentration skills, as well as their value of teamwork. But some children are not sports oriented, and good piano lessons provide many of those same benefits, if not more.
Learning to play piano will improve upon a young child’s coordination skills. Unlike many other instruments, the piano requires both hands to independently maneuver the keys. While the right hand may be playing a lilting melody, the left hand may be required to keep a slow steady beat. Not only do the hands work independent of each other, but so to do the fingers. The fingers on each hand must grab for the lower white keys, or the upper black keys to produce the proper harmony. At times, certain fingers will not press any keys at all. Good lessons will include many exercise books for the beginning student. Major and minor scales will teach the student to move each and every finger up and down the keyboard with precision.

Much like karate or tennis, playing the piano also requires concentration. If the child has never played a musical instrument, learning to properly read sheet music will be incorporated into the lesson. The black dots and lines representing notes and bars are like a foreign language. The child must learn to interpret the sheet music, then vocalize that translation through the keyboard. Piano teachers that are excellent with young children might approach the new music as a code the child must de-crypt using the piano keys. Most teachers will also set up a practice schedule with the student of perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes a day. With a new mission to de-code the piano music, many students might have no problem keeping to their fifteen minute a day regimen. Others might need reinforcement from their parents, but the benefits of requiring a child to stick to a piano study schedule are no different than requiring that a child attend basketball practice as promised

Music Makes You Smarter For Life

Do music lessons make kids smarter? Maybe. Studies report that musical kids perform better on tests of math skills, verbal ability, and even IQ. They may also have more grey matter in the brain. And a now a new study suggests that childhood music training helps people stay sharp as they get older.

So is it too late if you haven’t been sending your toddler to piano lessons? I don’t think so. The latest study hints at long-term benefits for kids who begin training around the age of ten.

Here’s a quick guide to the latest discoveries.

Musicians are smarter than mere listeners

The Mozart effect has been effectively debunked. Merely listening to music might make you feel a bit more creative, but it doesn’t seem to make you any smarter.

By contrast, there is mounting evidence that learning to play a musical instrument may shape the brain and boost your intelligence.

Studies of young children suggest that 4-6 year olds who play instruments perform better on tests of working memory. And older kids who play instruments have performed better on tests of general intelligence.

Are these correlations deceptive? Could it be that kids who are more intelligent are also more likely to get enrolled in music lessons? Maybe, but as I note in my Parenting Science review of the effects of music training, we have reason to think that music training makes kids smarter.

For example, one study administered IQ tests to 6-year-olds and then randomly assigned each child to receive one of four treatments:

• Keyboard lessons
• Singing lessons
• Drama lessons
• No lessons

At the end of the school year, the kids were tested again. Only the children who had received music lessons showed improvements.

As I note in the Parenting Science article, other research indicates that musicians have more grey matter in the brain.

And now a new study suggests that music training may help your kids stay sharp and cognitively flexible as they age.

When Brenda Hanna-Pladdy and Alicia McKay tested 70 older adults (aged 60-85), the researchers discovered a link between cognitive function and childhood music lessons.

The adults who’d had the most musical training—ten years or more—performed better than non-musicians on some cognitive tests. They had an easier time naming objects. In addition, they showed evidence of superior visual (nonverbal) memory and cognitive flexibility, or the ability to switch from one set of rules to another when the situation demands it.

There were also differences between non-musicians and people who’d studied music for less than 10 years. These differences weren’t as marked, and might be attributable to chance. But overall, there was a positive relationship between activity and cognitive performance:

The more years a person had spent playing an instrument, the better she did on the cognitive tests. And the musicians maintained their cognitive advantage even if they no longer played a musical instrument. This was true even though the musicians and non-musicians had achieved similar levels of education.

The results aren’t conclusive. Maybe the musicians socialized more, and the social stimulation is what kept them sharp. Or perhaps musicians are more physically active. As I’ve noted in an earlier post, physical exercise may benefit the brain too.

But this study is the first to examine the possibility of lifelong effects of musical training, and it will doubtless inspire more research.

Meanwhile, we should focus on this encouraging point: You don’t have to start music training very early in life to reap important benefits.

The musicians in this study weren’t professionals, and they weren’t child prodigies either. On average, they didn’t learn to play an instrument until they were about 10 years old.

Perhaps future studies will show that the cognitive benefits of music training are greatest for kids who begin earlier. But for now it appears that training can benefit kids who start in middle childhood. If your child didn’t start playing the violin in preschool, it’s not too late.

And besides, music is about much more than gaining a few points in IQ or preserving your mental agility. Learning to play an instrument is intrinsically rewarding. And new skills are valuable at any age.


Seven Advantages of Adult Piano Lessons
1. Adults learn of their own volition. Children very often have to be persuaded to practice and attend piano lessons. Adults, on the other hand, don’t need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to their piano teachers. (Admittedly, I do know some teachers whose lessons I’d be kicking and screaming to avoid.) Adult piano lessons are thus almost invariably a pleasure for both student and teacher.

2. Adults have highly developed logical and critical thinking skills. It is often thought that playing music is a purely creative, right-brained act, but this is by no means the case. As the most emotional of the arts, music indeed favors the Dionysian right brain compared to the Apollonian left. Yet so much of interpreting music is a matter of basic analysis, of understanding music’s harmonic vocabulary and what the composer is doing with the musical material. Playing music without understanding these essentials would be like learning to pronounce syllables in a foreign language but having little or no idea what the words mean.

3. Adults can learn complex concepts much more easily and understand technical explanations. This makes it possible for adults to learn music theory and analysis far more easily than do children. The importance of being able to analyze and understand a piece of music from the beginning of study cannot be overstated. Nothing is more common than students who attain skill on an instrument but who have only a rudimentary understanding of the music, which severely limits their playing in ways they cannot imagine. I believe much of this state of affairs arises from children who learn notes before they are able to comprehend them, and their knowledge of harmony and theory never catches up to their finger skill. Adults, by contrast, are able to grasp the elements of music and musical structures quite readily, like a scientist who understands how the world works.

4. Adults have developed attention spans. Children’s attention spans, by contrast, are often limited to only a few minutes at a time. It takes careful concentration to learn the piano, and adults have a considerable advantage in this regard. Progress on a musical instrument is a matter of accumulating many hours of concentrated, careful practice. (Practicing without concentration is not only unproductive, it is outright destructive to your playing.)

5. Adults are emotionally developed. Music, after all, is the most directly emotional of the arts, and its wide spectrum of emotions can only be expressed and comprehended by those who have experienced those emotions themselves. Emotion in music has very much to do with musical vocabulary (harmony, or how tones combine) and how they extend in time and create musical forms. The former is music’s vertical dimension (notes in relation to one another at any given moment), the latter its horizontal (how notes relate to one another in the listener’s aural memory).

6. Adults are able to read fluently. By contrast, very young children can’t yet read letters or numbers, which necessitates more basic teaching methods. Note names, musical instructions and fingering numbers are not the only things that require the ability to read letters and numbers: the fascinating areas of music history and theory, so critical to playing music competently, do as well.

7. By definition, adults are fully grown, whereas children have as-yet undeveloped muscles. While the hands themselves can and should gain flexibility and strength from practicing piano (and the hand span can even increase), the fingers and palms of adults are fully grown. This simple advantage should not be overlooked in music education. Children who play string instruments, for instance, are forced to adapt to instruments of different sizes as they grow. The violin, for instance, comes in fully eight different sizes! The piano keyboard, by contrast, is only available in one size. (Steinway, however, once made a special piano for the diminutive Josef Hofmann, one with slightly narrower keys.) While only a very few composers (Alkan among them) consistently required large hands, fully grown hands make more music accessible to players.

Remember, it is never too late to learn music! If you’re an adult wishing to commence or resume piano playing, I encourage you to discover your true musicality. Adult piano lessons may be your path to musical fulfillment