Author Archives: stevemills

Musical Overature

Musical Overture releases The Gig Room


Musical Overture is pleased to announce the launch of The Gig Room,  a new video conferencing tool that allows musicians in different locations to rehearse and perform together in real time.  The dream:  Bring the best musicians in the world to one place and play for them and with them via a computer or smartphone.  The Gig Room utilizes technology that, with a reliable internet connection, reduces latency to less than 25 milliseconds between two musicians up to 600 miles apart.  That’s the same lag, or delay, that is present if the two musicians are in the same room, but sitting 25 feet away from each other.  


This tool is part of a web application that creates an online space where the best musicians in the world gather to share music, ideas, and contact information.  Musical Overture has profile pages that serve as personal websites – with the musicians’ bios, contact info (if they opted to list it), musical interests, photo or avatar, etc. It also features a private messaging app, a powerful search tool, and a large video repository with HD videos, fast upload speeds and unique tools for sharing portfolios. 


Musical Overture is not just a web application, it is a community of musicians who want to meet each other and play for and with each other.  After all, musicians feel most like musicians when interacting with other musicians and with the people who love to listen to their music.  As a result, Musical Overture has become the world’s first truly global directory of musicians.  Instead of referring to the musicians’ union directory, orchestra personnel directors can find musicians and audition players on Musical Overture.  Musicians are learning that if they want to be found, they need to have a presence on Musical Overture. 


Once musicians find each other and play for each other using the HD video repository, the next step is to play together.  Thus, the Gig Room was born.  Finally, musicians can find each other, play for each other and play with each other in real time.  If a singer needs to rehearse with a pianist, the Gig Room makes that possible. If a bandmate is unable to attend a rehearsal, the Gig Room allows that player to attend and contribute to the rehearsal in real time.   The Gig Room is also the perfect way to teach “distance lessons.”  All a musician needs is a computer or smartphone with a fast and reliable internet connection. 


The advantages to being a part of the world’s first truly global community of musicians are many.   Musicians can meet their peers and find comradery through their common love of music making.  Students can meet prospective teachers and mentors who can guide them on their lifelong musical journey. Teachers, universities, conservatories, agents and personnel managers can recruit talented up and coming musicians. Music retailers can finally interact with musicians without having to go through the traditional gatekeepers (band directors, chorus teachers, etc).  Likewise, musicians can interact with their favorite manufacturers, which deepens brand awareness and loyalty.  Music lovers benefit as they are able to meet their musical idols and even play with them.  This, again, works both ways.  Musicians can interact with their fans on an even deeper level than is possible on other social media platforms.


The message is simple.  Meet the best musicians in the world and play for them and with them – in real time.  

For more information and press inquiries, please email

Train Your Brain

Want to ‘train your brain’? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument

Musical training can have a dramatic impact on your brain’s structure, enhancing your memory, spatial reasoning and language skills

‘Music probably does something unique. It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.’
 ‘Music probably does something unique. It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.’ Illustration: Sophie Wolfson

The multimillion dollar brain training industry is under attack. In October 2014, a group of over 100 eminent neuroscientists and psychologists wrote an open letter warning that “claims promoting brain games are frequently exaggerated and at times misleading”. Earlier this year, industry giant Lumosity was fined $2m, and ordered to refund thousands of customers who were duped by false claims that the company’s products improve general mental abilities and slow the progression of age-related decline in mental abilities. And a recent review examining studies purporting to show the benefits of such products found “little evidence … that training improves improves everyday cognitive performance”.

While brain training games and apps may not live up to their hype, it is well established that certain other activities and lifestyle choices can have neurological benefits that promote overall brain health and may help to keep the mind sharp as we get older. One of these is musical training. Research shows that learning to play a musical instrument is beneficial for children and adults alike, and may even be helpful to patients recovering from brain injuries.

“Music probably does something unique,” explains neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday of the University of Westminster. “It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.”

Playing a musical instrument is a rich and complex experience that involves integrating information from the senses of vision, hearing, and touch, as well as fine movements, and learning to do so can induce long-lasting changes in the brain. Professional musicians are highly skilled performers who spend years training, and they provide a natural laboratory in which neuroscientists can study how such changes – referred to as experience-dependent plasticity – occur across their lifespan.

Changes in brain structure

Early brain scanning studies revealed significant differences in brain structure between musicians and non-musicians of the same age. For example, the corpus callosum, a massive bundle of nerve fibres connecting the two sides of the brain, is significantly larger in musicians. The brain areas involved in movement, hearing, and visuo-spatial abilities also appear to be larger in professional keyboard players. And, the area devoted to processing touch sensations from the left hand is increased in violinists.

These studies compared data from different groups of people at one point in time. As such, they could not determine whether the observed differences were actually caused by musical training, or if existing anatomical differences predispose some to become musicians. But later, longitudinal studies that track people over time have shown that young children who do 14 months of musical training exhibit significant structural (pdf) and functional brain changes (pdf) compared to those who do not.

Together, these studies show that learning to play a musical instrument not only increases grey matter volume in various brain regions, but can also strengthen the long-range connections between them. Other research shows that musical training also enhances verbal memoryspatial reasoning, and literacy skills, such that professional musicians usually outperform non-musicians on these abilities.

Long-lasting benefits for musicians

Importantly, the brain scanning studies show that the extent of anatomical change in musicians’ brains is closely related to the age at which musical training began, and the intensity of training. Those who started training at the youngest age showed the largest changes when compared to non-musicians.

Even short periods of musical training in early childhood can have long-lasting benefits. In one 2013 study, for example, researchers recruited 44 older adults and divided them into three groups based on the level of formal musical training they had received as children. Participants in one group had received no training at all; those in the second had done a little training, defined as between one and three years of lessons; and those in the third had received moderate levels of training (four to 14 years).

The researchers played recordings of complex speech sounds to the participants, and used scalp electrodes to measure the timing of neural responses in a part of the auditory brainstem. As we age, the precision of this timing deteriorates, making it difficult to understand speech, especially in environments with a lot of background noise. Participants who had received moderate amounts of musical training exhibited the fastest neural responses, suggesting that even limited training in childhood can preserve sharp processing of speech sounds and increase resilience to age-related decline in hearing.

More recently, it has become clear that musical training facilitates the rehabilitation of patients recovering from stroke and other forms of brain damage, and some researchers now argue that it might also boost speech processing and learning in children with dyslexia and other language impairments. What’s more, the benefits of musical training seem to persist for many years, or even decades, and the picture that emerges from this all evidence is that learning to play a musical instrument in childhood protects the brain against the development of cognitive impairment and dementia.

Unlike commercial brain training products, which only improve performance on the skills involved, musical training has what psychologists refer to as transfer effects – in other words, learning to play a musical instrument seems to have a far broader effect on the brain and mental function, and improves other abilities that are seemingly unrelated.

“Music reaches parts of the brain that other things can’t,” says Loveday. “It’s a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust.”

Learning to play a musical instrument, then, seems to be one of the most effective forms of brain training there is. Musical training can induce various structural and functional changes in the brain, depending on which instrument is being learned, and the intensity of the training regime. It’s an example of how dramatically life-long experience can alter the brain so that it becomes adapted to the idiosyncrasies of its owner’s lifestyle

Benefits of Playing Music

The Benefits of Playing Music Help Your Brain More Than Any Other Activity

#4. Learning an instrument has showed an increase resilience to any age-related decline in hearing.

By John RamptonEntrepreneur and investor@johnrampton
CREDIT: Getty Images

The brain-training is big business. For companies like BrainHQ, Luminosity, and Cogmed, it’s actually a multimillion dollar business that is expected to surpass $3 billion by 2020. But, do the actually benefit your brain?

Research doesn’t believe so. In fact, the the University of Illinois determined that there’s little or no evidence that these games improve anything more than the specific tasks being trained. Luminosity was even fined $2 million for false claims.

So, if these brain games don’t work, then what will keep your brain sharp? The answer? Learning to play a musical instrument.

Why Being a Musician Is Good For Your Brain

Science has shown that musical training can change brain structure and function for the better. It can also improve long-term memory and lead to better brain development for those who start at a young age.

Furthermore, musicians tend to be more mentally alert, according to new research from a University of Montreal study.

“The more we know about the impact of music on really basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical training to individuals who might have slower reaction times,” said lead researcher Simon Landry.

“As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them.”

Previously, Landry found that musicians have faster auditory, tactile, and audio-tactile reaction times. Musicians also have an altered statistical use of multi-sensory information. This means that they’re better at integrating the inputs from various senses.

“Music probably does something unique,” explains neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday of the University of Westminster. “It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.”

Unlike brain-games, playing an instrument is a rich and complex experience. This is because it’s integrating information from senses like vision, hearing, and touch, along with fine movements. This can result long-lasting changes in the brain. This can also be applicable in the business world.

Changes in the Brain

Brains scans have been able to identify the difference in brain structure between musicians and non-musicians. Most notably, the corpus callosum, a massive bundle of nerve fibres connecting the two sides of the brain, is larger in musicians. Also, the areas involving movement, hearing, and visuospatial abilities appear to be larger in professional keyboard players.

Initially, these studies couldn’t determine if these differences were caused by musical training of if anatomical differences predispose some to become musicians. Ultimately, longitudinal studies showed that children who do 14 months of musical training displayed more powerful structural and functional brain changes.

These studies prove that learning a musical instrument increases grey matter volume in various brain regions, It also strengthens the long-range connections between them. Additional research shows that musical training can enhance verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy skills.

Long Lasting Benefits For Musicians

Brain scanning studies have found that the anatomical change in musicians’ brains is related to the age when training began. It shouldn’t be surprising, but learning at a younger age causes the most drastic changes.

Interestingly, even brief periods of musical training can have long-lasting benefits. A 2013 study found that even those with moderate musical training preserved sharp processing of speech sounds. It was also able to increase resilience to any age-related decline in hearing.

Researchers also believe that playing music helps speech processing and learning in children with dyslexia. Furthermore, learning to play an instrument as a child can protect the brain against dementia.

“Music reaches parts of the brain that other things can’t,” says Loveday. “It’s a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust.”

Other Ways Learning an Instrument Strengthens Your Brain

Guess what? We’re still not done. Here are eight additional ways that learning an instrument strengthens your brain.

1. Strengthens bonds with others. This shouldn’t be surprising. Think about your favorite band. They can only make a record when they have contact, coordination, and cooperation with each other.

2. Strengthens memory and reading skills. The Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University states that this is because music and reading are related via common neural and cognitive mechanisms.

3. Playing music makes you happy. McMaster University discovered that babies who took interactive music classes displayed better early communication skills. They also smiled more.

4. Musicians can process multiple things at once. As mentioned above, this is because playing music forces you to process multiple senses at once. This can lead superior multisensory skills.

5. Musical increases blood flow in your brain. Studies have found that short bursts of musical training increase the blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain. That can be helpful when you need a burst of energy. Skip the energy drink and jam for 30 minutes. 6. Music helps the brain recover. Motor control improved in everyday activities with stroke patients.

7. Music reduces stress and depression. A study of cancer patients found that listening and playing music reduced anxiety. Another study revealed that music therapy lowered levels of depression and anxiety.

8. Musical training strengthens the brain’s’ executive function. Executive function covers critical tasks like processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, making, and problem-solving. If strengthened, you can boost your ability to live. Musical training can improve and strengthen executive functioning in both children and adults.

And, wrap-up, check out this awesome short animation from TED-Ed on how playing an instrument benefits your brain.


What do the piano pedals do? Pianos, keyboards and digital pianos can have one to three foot pedals that perform various musical functions. The most important pedal is the Damper or Sustain pedal, usually found on the furthest right on acoustic instruments, and the only one for single pedal keyboards. The Damper/Sustain pedal controls how long the notes can be heard after playing them. The second most important pedal is the Soft pedal, otherwise known as the Una Corda. This controls how soft the piano sounds, and is usually the pedal furthest to the left on acoustic pianos. The third pedal – usually the middle one – varies in function, depending on the type of piano. On grand pianos, the middle pedal is known as a Sostenuto pedal. This pedal only holds notes that have been “locked” with the fingers, keeping the other notes free to be controlled by the other pedals or with the fingers alone. On upright pianos, the middle pedal is usually the practice pedal, moving a piece of felt between the hammers and strings to produce a muted sound, perfect for keeping the piano quiet and not disturbing others

If you give a kid a drum set…..


The Power of Music in Students’ Lives

Early in my teaching career, I was a band director in a public high school on the “less economically advantaged” side of a major Midwestern city. It was here, among some students from middle socioeconomic status (SES) homes and some students from lower SES backgrounds who called the housing project next to the high school home, that I experienced one of the most profound examples of the power of music in the lives of people.

Our high school had a basketball team that several times during my time at the school were state champions, and we liked to think that our pep band was of like caliber! The pep band, led by a high school student director, played a steady diet of the latest pop and rock tunes; and of course, the school’s fight song. I let the students choose the music and rehearse the music. I was simply there to open the band room door every morning at 7:00 am for their practices. This left me time to observe the group and see students passing by in the halls.

Of course, there weren’t many students passing by at 7:00 am; but after the first week or two of practices, I noticed a young African American boy (we’ll call him Kenny) consistently outside listening to the pep band. One morning, I wandered out into the hall and asked his name—“Kenny,” he replied confidently. “Boy, I sure would like to play in that band,” he said, “but I can’t read music.” He wanted to play the drum set.

“Boy, I sure would like to play in that band,” he said, “but I can’t read music.”

To make a long story short, I invited him in and asked the student leader if Kenny could take a turn in the rhythm section. He was a natural. He, of course, had heard a lot of these pop/rock tunes our band was playing; and he had no trouble playing along. He stayed every evening after school to practice on the set when no one was around. Eventually, I asked him to sign up for our jazz band during the school day and that I would teach him to read music.

Kenny began in the jazz band as a sophomore. I came to know him quite well. I found out that he lived in the housing project with his aunt. His success in jazz band transferred to a “can do” attitude in his academic classes. During his junior year, he made the honor roll for the first time; I encouraged him to go on to college. He did just that, not as a music major, but as a theater major. (He was quite outgoing and active in the school theater program as well.)

During our final jazz band concert of Kenny’s senior year, just as the jazz band concluded their final number, Kenny stood up and informed the audience that there was one more selection to be heard—a tune he had written for the jazz band, which was dedicated to my wife and me, whom he affectionately called his “Mom & Pop.” I don’t think I was ever more proud of any student I have taught at any level than I was of Kenny that night.

Music does make a difference in the lives of people!

Dr. Glenn E. Nierman is a Give a Note Board Member and Immediate Past President of the National Association for Music Education.

Music Education in Schools

An Open Letter to All Boards of Education About the Power of Music and the Arts in Schools

Kinhaven 2014-282Dear Board of Education Members:

Usually someone like me is writing to you at the end of the year, pleading for no cuts to be made to our arts programs.  But I decided to be proactive and write this at thebeginning of the year — instead focusing on discussing with you ways in which our programs should grow and prosper, not just survive.

Too often, our community is forced to defend the arts in the face of budget season, but we can do better than this.  We need to utilize this “quieter” time of year to not only celebrate the arts in education, but to discuss ways to fully incorporate it into the lives of our children so that we rarely need to discuss dismantling our programs ever again.

I believe it’s important to start this year by reminding ourselves of what the goal of our community is in regards to the education of our children.  In my view, we are charged with at least these three things:


  • We’re teaching our students skills necessary for entering the global workforce — but let’s be careful with this.  We are preparing them for jobs that do not exist yet due to the speed at which technology is changing the world, so using an “Industrial Revolution model” of education is no longer appropriate.
  • We’re preparing them to be great citizens.
  • We’re teaching them to be great human beings — people who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty, and thus think creatively and in innovative ways about the two points listed above.

During these times of tough budget choices, music advocates such as myself are constantly forced into speaking to the tangible benefits of arts education to ensure it remains a vital part of our public education system.  In this case, we need to discuss more about how the arts can become a more vital part of the system in tangible and intangible (non-tested) ways.

Here are reasons I believe music and the arts have a profound impact on our school system, and some ideas to incorporate the arts into each and every school day:

Music is a core part of our life.  Before we discuss ways music and the arts “helps” academics, let’s first make a strong statement as a school community that all young people should participate in the arts because it’s central to every human society on earth and has an unbelievably important role in every aspect of culture; including history, literature, media and ways in which we communicate.  The intrinsic value of the arts and their role in our daily lives and society — and the importance of helping young people understand and appreciate that value and role — should be at the forefront of our educators’ and administrators’ minds.

Music education can close our achievement gap.  The definition of our Achievementt Gap has almost everything to do with the results of standardized testing.  While I personally believe that a student’s success should not be determined by test scores, let’s play that game while referencing some data:

Not only do the arts improve standardized test scores, a 2012 report from the National Endowment for the Arts showed that, by nearly every indicator studied, a student from a low-socioeconomic (SES) background with a high-arts educational experience significantly outperformed peers from a low-arts, low-SES background, closing (and in some cases eliminating) the gap that often appears between low-SES students and their more advantaged peers.  These improvements were in graduation rates, college attendance and completion rates, and science and writing scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

My point is that we have tried giving SES students “more school” to boost test scores, and not only has it barely worked — it’s not making them like school any more than they already do (and many are miserable).  What if we engaged them in an artistic and creative manner and test scores go up as a result?  When are we going to try something different?

Top-down mandates are one thing, but implementation in the classroom is another.  If we continue to create school schedules that are solely based on state mandates without any creative implementation on our part, our children lose.  Besides, these mandates and educational fads are changing all the time, leaving us reactive and scrambling to conform instead of proactive and placing the mandates “where they belong”.  Whatever our educational leaders say about the arts, they measure achievement through math and language arts scores, not drawing proficiency or music skills.  It’s no surprise then that our district has zeroed in on the tests.  We can do better, and we have the capacity to decide to be ahead of the curve regarding education reform if we choose to do so.

We need to narrow the “opportunity gap.”  While we continue to keep up with these state mandates and new testing fads, our economically disadvantaged kids lose out big time.  They are the ones who see more contact time in academic subjects at the expense of the music and the arts, yet they are the ones who may benefit most from music’s benefits:  enhanced brain development, spatial/visual/temporal processing, improving memory and attention, physical coordination, personal discipline and teamwork.  Consider the fact that students with access to arts education have higher attendance rates and lower drop out rates, and that the arts engage the parents and families of students who are involved in performances and recitals.  Why wouldn’t we make the arts available to at-risk students in abundance?

Creativity is learned and it must be a habit, so we need to create innovative school schedules.  Like any other learned skill, creativity must become a habit in order for it to “stick”.  One day a week of the arts in the school schedule, especially in the earlier grades, is a far shot from teaching creativity.  How would we build a “perfect” school day for our students if there were no state mandates? Let’s start there.  That ideal schedule would reflect our true values as a community and act as a powerful starting point for building a schedule that works for all children.  There are no perfect schedules, but a carefully planned schedule should include flexibility that will positively impact teaching, instruction, and professional development in the arts.

We need to train every single teacher in the arts.  A curriculum rich in the arts is a more engaging curriculum for all.  We need to pool our resources and provide professional development opportunities throughout the year to give our teachers step-by-step strategies to teach in and through the arts.  This will greatly help our teachers bring art and music into their students’ everyday classroom experience.  Through this development, our teachers can learn to teach the “whole child” and reach students who may struggle with traditional approaches to learning — students who have been “lost” in our test-rich system until now.  This will be some of the best money we have ever spent for our schools.

I am writing this because, like you, I want to see the students in our schools succeed, and I’ve seen first-hand the powerful impact arts education can have on students’ academic success.  Our arts-centered school reform initiatives can engage students and teachers, improve our schools’ climates and cultures, and help connect our schools to families and communities.  We need to do everything we can to fuel students’ imaginations and creativity; the arts will enhance students problem-solving and critical thinking skills, which aid their learning in other subject areas.  An education in the arts exposes students to a variety of cultures while enriching their learning experience and teaching them how to be empathetic, tolerant and open to working with others — all necessary skills for success in our multi-cultural society.

Music and arts education should not be a luxury in our district.  Creativity isn’t only reserved for artists and musicians, so let’s turn this problem on its head and share the belief that the arts as the nucleus of an education are essential for every child.  Learning to create and appreciate visual and aural aesthetics is more important than ever before to the development of the next generation of great thinkers, innovators, and human beings.

We have tried the way of the almighty test.  Let’s try something different.


An Optimistic Parent