The benefits from studying music and musical performance travel with us throughout life, regardless of what profession we ultimately choose. The undertaking of musical studies is just that: studying a subject -- a high art form. The full benefits associated with musical training require a commitment of time on the part of the student and parent -- not just for attendance at weekly lessons, but also for studying and practicing the weekly assignments. Student progress is directly related to the amount of time the student puts in. Finally, good music is simply good music -- it doesn't have to be from 1700-1900 to have teaching or learning value! I teach across all historical periods and genres.
Some of my unique teaching philosophies and goals for my students are as follows:
- Enhance my students learning and access to all types of music by leveraging my composition skills to create level-appropriate arrangements of more advanced music in which my students express an interest in learning
- Encourage my students to explore all different types of music -- classical (Renaissance - 20th Century), American songbook and musical theatre, jazz, rock, as well as world music.
- Apply performance standards as necessary. For example, memorizing music for solo performance is required for competitions, evaluations and auditions; however, for other performance situations and opportunities, memorization is not a requirement
- Performance is about making music and communicating, not about being 'note perfect' every time. For me, it is most important that students find joy in making music
- Instilling performance confidence and competency through preparation while understanding that even with preparation honest mistakes may happen
- Acquiring a physical technique and a relaxed playing style -- this is more important than having the ability to tensely play at lightning speed. The acquisition of physical technique comes through frequent and repeated physical practice on the instrument
I have to agree with Plato! I've had first-hand experience with the multitude of benefits associated with music studies and studies in piano performance. I truly believe that my musical studies helped me develop the cognitive and creative skills needed to succeed in a 20+ year career with a Fortune 10 Company. I credit my music studies in helping me develop high-level problem-solving, mathematical, and spatial skills along with the ability to quickly see the 'big picture' --getting from A to Z (with all the details in between!). The high level of attention-to-detail required for piano performance transferred over into other areas, including business management. This attention-level-to-detail was a highly valued trait cited in the numerous management awards I received.
I believe that the key to acquiring the brain development -- the cognitive benefits is -- the "study." The ancient Greeks viewed music as one of the highest art forms - they recognized the benefits. When we think of the great Greeks philosophers and teachers, we can envision how they must have approached this subject matter -- active engagement in the process of learning requiring a commitment of time to dedicated study.
Have you ever considered how many pieces of information the brain needs to process simultaneously in order to perform a piano work? The list includes:
Interpreting musical notation:
- Determining what pitch (note) has been written
- What piano key is associated with the note
- How loud / soft is that note to be played
- The duration of the note
- How is that note to be played - crisp, accented, smoothly, detached
Execution of the musical notation:
- A whole lot of fine motor skills requiring that the right arm, wrist, hand, fingers performs one way while the left arm, wrist, hand, fingers perform in a completely different way.
In order to competently perform an advanced piano composition, the brain needs to process up to 10 or more pieces of information simultaneously -- pretty impressive, right?! (Each of the above times 2 -- each side of the body needs to be able to operate independently). The body needs to be able to fluidly execute the movements (fine motor skills) to deliver up to 10 or more items of information, simultaneously.
Simone Dalla Bella in her book, "The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology", points out that learning and making music are complex multimodal activities that engage perceptual, cognitive, motor, and sensorimotor processes and the associated neuronal circuitries. In my experience, the performance of music calls for simultaneously using analytic skills (what does the notation say) along with the creative skills (what sound do I need to produce) -- all of this points to the high load put on brain functioning.
The full acquisition of all of the benefit associated with learning and making music requires study - it requires a commitment to sit down outside of a lesson and practice (study) the musical notation and the physical execution (technique) required by the musical notation.
For more information, please check out these incredible scientific articles on the benefits of music study:
"Effects of Music Learning and Piano Practice on Cognitive Function, Mood, and Quality of Life in Older Adults". Sofia Seinfeld, Heidi Figueroa, Jordi Ortiz-Gil and Maria V. Sanchez-Vives, "Frontiers in Psychology" 01 November 2013
The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology (2 ed.), Simone Dalla Bella