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Keep Your Mind Sharp with Music

piano lessons for kids

“Music enhances the process of learning. The systems it nourishes, which include our integrated sensory, attention, cognitive, emotional and motor capacities, are shown to be the driving forces behind all other learning.”

— From Empathy, Arts and Social Studies, 2000; Konrad, R.R.

Music has been proven to have powerful effects on the mind and body, improving our senses and abilities in many ways.  Tuning into certain songs can influence a surrounding environment by creating a sense of calm, motivation, or positive mood.  Songs with higher frequencies can be energizing to those experiencing low energy levels and can increase overall productivity.  Studies have shown that listening to music can raise serotonin levels while lowering levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which results in higher immune functioning and lower levels of depression.  A particular study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing describes how patients suffering with chronic pain showed better physical and psychological symptoms when they listened to music for an hour each day of the week, verses patients who weren’t exposed to music.

Some other benefits include increased memory capacity, creativity, and ability to focus.  Musical training at a young age has the potential to change brain functionality and structure when practiced over a long period of time.  It strengthens the regions of the brain involving language skills and executive function.  Researchers have found that in those who began taking music lessons before age 7, the volume of brain regions related to hearing and self-awareness tend to be larger.  This hints that early musical training could potentially be used as a therapeutic tool.  It gets the creative juices flowing as well, as a study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests.  This study demonstrated that moderate levels of ambient noise improved creativity by increasing processing difficulty, thus engaging the abstract processing sectors of the brain.  This encourages individuals to tap into the so called “zone” or flow state that leads to more creative ideas.

Learning a new instrument maximizes cognitive function and memory retention by utilizing both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously, while physically developing fine motor skills and sharpening auditory perception.  When children learn to play an instrument, their multi-sensory processing skills improve, sharpening their ability to hear sounds otherwise undetected. This encourages “neurophysiological distinction” between certain sounds that can aid in literacy, translating into better academic results.  A peer reviewed academic journal, PLOS ONE, reports that children who have had three or more years in musical instrument training performed better in auditory discrimination tests and fine motor skills than those who didn’t learn an instrument.  These children also performed better on vocabulary tests and in assessments involving visual analysis.  Music is a terrific opportunity for children to express themselves creatively while picking up a new skill. It could be much more than this though, according to researchers, who suggest that musical training could also serve to hone their mental energies.

“Music does something beyond our understanding. We can call it an endorphin release or a distraction, but it goes much deeper than that. Somehow music just does us good. And the good it does was just proven to be better.”

~ Michael Huckabee, professor and director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center Division of Physician Assistant Education

Intuitive Playing for Children

play, intuition, and ear

Teaching Children Music

If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.

—Shin’ichi Suzuki

 

Introducing music to your child is one of the greatest gifts you can give.  It sharpens the senses and relaxes the mind.  The benefits of building a strong musical foundation will be revisited throughout life.  In a post-war Japan, Shin’ichi Suzuki used music to renew a sense of beauty into people’s lives after the devastation of World War II.  The Suzuki method was developed to encourage playing in a natural way, by feeling rather than intellect.  He believed that creating the ‘right environment’ would foster excellent character in his students.  Song-playing is encouraged rather than technical exercises, with a heavy emphasis placed on learning by ear.

Each student contains unique pathways to learning.  If the initial learning experience is approached with intuition, curiosity, and trust, the student will have more fun and will be drawn to the instrument more naturally.  A student must first reach an appropriate level of maturity to play in order to retain focus, with a genuine interest in exploring sounds.  The act of play should be free and easy, where the posture is supported yet relaxed.  Eventually, a communication emerges between student and instrument.  Effective lessons should instill confidence in the student and be part of a fun, rewarding experience.

As a teacher at Philly Music Lessons, I’ve found that young beginners learn most effectively when they are introduced to brief recognizable melodies.  Using short repetitive phrases, their ears begin to pick up on tonal patterns while the movements of their fingers become absorbed in muscle memory.  It’s amazing to see the light bulbs go off when a student learns how to play one of their favorite songs.

Intuitive playing emphasizes process over repertoire driven results.  Students should enjoy their lessons, while the teacher should make sure students develop a solid feel for rhythm, melody and harmony.  Learning in the spirit of lighthearted exploration is the surest way to achieve success at the piano and begin a lifetime appreciation for music.