I love that January is the time of year for new goals and added resolve. If you are reading this blog, you probably know that taking piano lessons is the very best way to boost brain function and memory, while having fun! But you do have to play regularly to progress, and to enjoy the maximum brain benefits. Research shows that short daily practice sessions are more effective than one long weekly session. If you practice 6 days for 10 minutes a day, you’re going to learn and remember better than if you play one day for 60 minutes. Playing daily, even for a short time, is going to get you the best and quickest results. But I know how difficult it is to make the time to practice! Our Pledge To Play: 10 Minutes a Day challenge will hopefully give you that extra bit of motivation to get you to the keys. Every one who completes 30 days of practice will receive a free gift! Plus you’ll have 30 days of practice tips and motivational emails from me to keep you going. All you have to do to join is to subscribe to this blog (if you haven’t already) and write a reply such as, “I’m in!” You can find the subscription form at the bottom of this post. (Don’t worry, I won’t share your email with anyone.) You’re welcome to report on your progress and I encourage you to make comments whenever you’d like.
The NY Times recently ran an article called “Is Music The Key To Success?” The author, Joanne Lipman showed that many of the most successful Americans play instruments. Alan Greenspan (former chief of the Federal Reserve), Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State), Steven Spielberg (filmmaker) and Andrea Mitchell (NBC’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent) all play musical instruments. You have probably heard that children who study music elevate their test scores (particularly in math and including IQ) but these highly successful people are convinced that their musical training impacted their professional achievements as well.
The aforementioned luminaries plus many others that were interviewed for the article believe that the years they have spent practicing and focusing on their instrument have influenced the way that they think in general. They have learned how to attack a problem from many angles with imaginative and unconventional solutions. Neuroscientists often recommend that you hang your pictures upside down, change your furniture around and take a new route when walking or driving somewhere, to stimulate your brain to see things in a different way. Similarly, the act of learning a piano piece activates new neural pathways in the brain and sparks the senses anew each time you practice.
The high achievers in the article have learned that working hard on something such as music really does produce results. Sometimes as beginners we think we will never learn to play the piano, but when we practice, we keep improving! That helps us to build confidence in ourselves, and to recognize that we have control over what we would like to accomplish.
Billionaire hedge fund chairman Bruce Kovner says that his investing is influenced by his piano playing, as “both ‘relate to a kind of pattern recognition.’” Finding patterns in our music helps us to learn it more deeply and aids memorization.
Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft says, “music ‘reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.’” James D. Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president believes that playing an instrument restores balance to your life. Sitting down at the piano can bring back that sense of artistry and equilibrium that we sometimes lose in the course of a stressful day.
How has playing the piano influenced the way you are in the world? Have you noticed that you have increased patience and trust that your concentration and self-discipline will bring you closer to your goals? What have you noticed has changed since you have started playing the piano? I welcome your observations! With love and music, Gaili
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If you joined us, what I hope you will take with you is the habit of getting yourself to piano daily or a set number of days per week (i.e. every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 8:30 pm etc.), even if it’s only for a few minutes. Making it a habit to sit at the keys for minutes daily, practicing an exercise or working on a tricky musical passage can make a tremendous difference in your playing over time. We know that the brain remembers best that which it is exposed to daily, so if you are playing regularly, you are making the most of your brain power.
I have heard that when asked what is the secret to a happy, fulfilled life, The Dalai Lama replied, “Routines.” A routine or habit is something we do regularly, such as brushing our teeth or getting dressed in the morning. Routines might sound boring, but actually they are relaxing and can lead to creativity. Beethoven was known to count out exactly 60 coffee beans for his cup every morning before his morning walk to get his creative juices flowing. A leading psychologist of the late 19th century, William James said,
Don’t consider afresh each morning whether to work on your novel for 45 minutes before the day begins; once you’ve resolved that that’s just what you do, it’ll be far more likely to happen.
When people are ill, they often talk about wishing to return to their simple daily routines. The gifts of the normal, healthy day, are many. If you are able to tuck a little piano practice into your daily routine, you will no doubt progress faster than if you play just once per week; Daily piano playing leads to more freedom of expression and beauty.
There are many demands on our time. Besides practicing the piano we are supposed to meditate, exercise, cook healthy meals, clean ourselves and our homes, answer phone calls and emails and be social! But if we are efficient with our time and make a few priorities part of our daily routine, we can get to everything. I hope that you will make practicing the piano a priority and a joyful routine.
Greetings from Long Island, NY! Today I visited the Montauk Point Lighthouse, which was commissioned by President George Washington in 1792! I read letters and journals written by both male and female light keepers who saved the lives of hundreds of fishermen by rowing out in fearsome storms, pulling them into their boats and nursing them back to health. During WWII the lighthouse was used by the US Army as an eastern defense post. In the 1960s the lighthouse was in danger of falling into the sea because the land it was built on was eroding at an alarming rate. The army corps of engineers came with great tractors and concrete, but were not able to keep the bluffs from eroding. It was a woman named Giorgina Reid who was under 5 feet and in her mid-60s that was able to save the lighthouse. Starting in 1970, Giorgina worked for 20 years with her formulation of lumber, sand and the native reeds growing along the beach, to build terraced walls that would hold. In recounting her story, Giorgina said,
I had come to terms with nature–no longer was I battling it; I was using it, working with it.
Walking on the various pathways surrounding the lighthouse I saw the reeds that Giorgina credited with the success of her terraces. It was a windy day and they were well bent over. The reeds have hollow stems like tiny pipes perfectly suited for retaining rainwater – like a miniature irrigation system! They are strong enough to prevent sand from sifting out, but flexible enough to bend and not break in the fierce winds that hit the bluffs.
When they decay, they blend with the roots of plantings above, holding the soil together like millions of tiny fingers.
These beautiful reeds, the story of the evolution of the Montauk Lighthouse and Giorgina’s remarkable resourcefulness got me thinking about adaptability; how important it is to be able to bend to the inevitable circumstances that we face in our every day lives, instead of breaking under pressure.
In the book SUPER BRAIN, the authors talk about the genius physicist, Albert Einstein. They didn’t talk so much about his great intellect, but about his adaptability. Einstein once told his students:
Do not worry about your problems with mathematics. I assure you mine are far greater.
But when faced with roadblocks, Einstein learned everything he could about the problem, then opened himself to new explanations and creative possibilities.
When you think about it, our species has been able to adapt to incredible environmental challenges such as the harshest climates, limited diets, terrible diseases and natural disasters. We look for innovative solutions, and do our best with what we have. The irony of Einstein was that while he was completely flexible in his thinking in his work, he was difficult and inflexible as a husband and father! Even for a genius, emotions are more elusive than intellectual ponderings. Here are some suggestions for expanding your emotional adaptability:
Don’t keep repeating what never worked in the first place.
Stand back and look for a new solution.
Stop struggling at the level of the problem, the answer never lies there.
When old stressors are triggered, walk away.
Stop attaching so much weight to being right. Instead look for ways to be happy.
You are becoming more adaptable when:
You can laugh at yourself.
You see that there is more to a situation than you realize.
Other people no longer look like antagonists just because they disagree with you.
Compromise becomes a positive word.
You can take it easy in a state of relaxed awareness.
You see things in a way you didn’t before, and this delights you.
Of course we are not always successful in our attempts to adapt to difficult situations. But when faced with obstacles, think like Giorgina Reid, looking around and gathering your resources to find a new way of thinking. Be like the reeds, bending, not breaking while letting the storms flow through you. Take your cue from Einstein who (when working!) knew that if he surrendered to the puzzle, he might find the missing piece. Trusting all the while that if something does break, it can be fixed, and you can start over again and find another way.
The aging process, though inevitable, is unpredictable. Authors Rudolph Tanzi Ph.D., and Deepak Chopra M.D. of the book SUPER BRAIN say that there are these unknowable factors about how the brain ages:
Aging is very slow- It starts at about age 30 and progresses at about 1% per year. Some cells age more quickly than others, and they age too slowly to observe over time.
Aging is unique- Everyone ages differently, even twins. Life experiences create unique genetic patterns as we age.
Aging is invisible- Though we can see outer changes in cells such as graying hair and wrinkling, the inner life of our cells at the molecular level are impossible to track.
In spite of these uncertainties, we can impact our cells by sending positive messages from our central nervous system, and minimizing negative messages. We can affect our own DNA! Drs Chopra and Tanzi talk about the mind-body connection. As much as we’d like to simply take an anti-aging pill, lifestyle choices are really our best defense against aging.
How to reduce the risks of aging:
Eat a Mediterranean Diet- olive oil instead of butter, fish instead of red meat, whole grains, beans, nuts, whole vegetables and fruits. Cut way back on fats, sugar, and ready-made processed foods.
Avoid overeating. Just walk away from excess food.
Exercise moderately for at least 1 hour 3 times per week.
Drink alcohol, preferably red wine, in moderation, if at all.
Take steps to avoid household accidents (from slippery floors, steep stairs, fire hazards, etc.)
Get a good night’s sleep , and take an afternoon nap if you like.
Have good friends.
Don’t isolate yourself.
Engage socially in worthwhile projects.
Be close with people who have a good lifestyle–habits are contagious
Follow a purpose in life.
Leave time for play and relaxation.
Address issues around anger.
Practice stress management.
These lifestyle choices affect longevity and quality of life. If you have started, continued, or restarted music lessons later in life, you have already surpassed the biggest obstacle to longevity:
“The most crippling aspects of aging tend to involve inertia. That is, we keep doing what we’ve always done. Starting in late middle age new things gradually fall by the wayside. Passivity overtakes us; we lose our motivation.”
Not you! Piano lessons are offering new challenges to your brain every time you sit down to practice. And playing the piano keeps you humble! 🙂
More about longevity on Sunday. Tomorrow I will be traveling all day, to visit my older daughter in East Hampton, NY. By Sunday I will have access to a computer again.
Earlier this year I watched a PBS series called SUPER BRAIN, featuring Rudolph Tanzi, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School, and Deepak Chopra, a physician and prolific author. Though the title sounds pretty cheesy, I thought the PBS segments were great, and learned a lof from Dr. Tanzi especially. I bought their series of DVDs and books in which they discuss the latest information on the mind and how to maximize your brain power. I will offer some of their wisdom to you in the coming blog posts, and would be happy to host a screening of some of their DVDs on subjects such as preventing Alzheimer’s, boosting memory and the Super Brain overview to those of you who live in the LA area.
Today I wanted to quote Drs. Tanzi and Chopra on how to develop the kind of mind-set that keeps your brain healthy. Here are the characteristics they list for an individual with the greatest potential for a Super Brain:
I Look upon every day as a new world
I pay attention not to fall into bad habits
I like to improvise
I am never bored, always seeking out new things to do
I will keep evolving my whole lifetime
If I learn a new skill, I will take it as far as I can
I adapt quickly to change
If I’m not good at something when I first try it, that’s okay, I like the challenge
I thrive on activity, with only a small amount of down time
I like reinventing myself
I’ve recently changed a long-held belief or opinion
There’s at least one thing I’m an expert on
I gravitate towards educational outlets on TV or in local colleges
I’m inspired by my life on a day-to-day basis
I feel comfortably in control
I actively avoid stressful situations by walking away and letting go
My mood is consistently good
Despite unexpected events my life is headed in the direction I want it to go
I like the way my mind thinks
Do you feel that at least some of these attitudes describe you? If some of them made you laugh (or cringe), they are probably the things you still need to develop in your personality.
In the next week I will continue to tell you more about how to have a Super Brain. Maybe they will help you to change a long-held opinion, walk away from stress, or attract you to educational outlets, and you will be on your way!
Thanks for reading my blogs, I hope it isn’t too annoying getting so many emails from me. After our pledge is over I’ll go back to one blog per month or so. Tomorrow I will post a free sheet music download! Until then, keep evolving, adapting to change, and reinventing yourself!
There is new scientific evidence that shows (once again) that playing a musical instrument is great for your brain. There have been so many studies showing that music lessons benefit the brain that we’ve got to believe it!
This latest study was conducted at The University of St. Andrews in Scotland:
The team said their results indicated musical activity could be used to slow, stop or even reverse age and illness-related decline in mental functioning.
The study compared non-professional musicians with a control group of non-musicians, and found that the musicians were better to recognize and correct errors, and their brains functioned better overall. You can read the BBC report here:
Psychologist Dr Ines Jentzsch, who led the research, said: ‘Our study shows that even moderate levels of musical activity can benefit brain functioning.’
Of course we are not surprised, as we have heard similar reports from many studies all touting the benefits of music study on cognitive function, but every time another study validates it, I want to dance a little jig!
So congratulations! You are doing something that is not only fun and relaxing, but also a great workout for your brain. Now all you have to do is balance it with some physical exercise, and you will be in great shape.
Some of you will be leaving town during our PLEDGE TO PLAY: 10 MInutes A Day. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do your 10 minutes each day! Researchers at Harvard demonstrated that even just imagining playing the piano activates the same part of the brain as when you actually play!
One group of volunteers played a 5-finger exercise over the course of a week, while the other group merely imagined moving their fingers to play the same exercise. Though the group that actually played the piano had a greater brain benefit, by the end of the week, the same part of the brain in both groups had been significantly impacted.
Remember Professor Harold Hill taught music by “the think system” in the musical, The Music Man? Maybe he was onto something!
Once again it has been scientifically proven that STUDYING THE PIANO BENEFITS THE BRAIN!
At the 22nd meeting of the European Neurological Society from June 9-12 2012, doctors presented the results of the latest two studies linking improved brain functioning with piano lessons. You can read the article below:
Studies by the University Hospital San Raffaele (Milan, Italy) demonstrated that test persons with no musical background were not only visibly more dexterous after two weeks of piano lessons, but their brains also changed measurably. It’s not surprising that the participants achieved a dramatic increase in their small motor skills, I’ve seen that in my students hundreds of times. But what did surprise me was that after just 10 days of 35-minute practice in a two week period, participants experienced significant improvements in brain functioning.
Dr. Elise Houdayer from the University Hospital San Raffaele in Milan delalred:’Ten days…can…trigger changes in cortical plasticity similar to results reported for professional musicians.’ The participants experienced not only dramatically more agility in their fingers, but also substantial increases in the volume of GRAY MATTER in their brains.
What is GRAY MATTER?
Gray (or grey) matter is a type of neural tissue which is primarily found in the brain and spinal cord. Neurologists associate gray matter with intelligence, intellect and coordination.
Significant positive correlations have been found between gray matter volume in elderly persons and measures of semantic and short term memory…. These results suggest that individual variability in specific cognitive functions that are relatively well preserved with aging is accounted for by the variability of gray matter volume in elderly subjects. The doctors also hastened to add that the more complicated the task, the denser and better the structure of the gray matter.
So what can we conclude from this other than what we already know, that piano lessons are an incredible brain workout? I hope you’ll feel encouraged when you’re working on a piece you’re afraid you’ll never master, or battling with a finger position that feels complicated. I hope you’ll say to yourself, “This is great! Playing difficult passages is the best way to keep my brain healthy. If it were easy, I wouldn’t be getting the greatest cognitive benefits. I’ll just keep working on it, and as before, it will come eventually.”
I salute your courage and fortitude! And I hope that in spite of the difficulties, you manage to sit back and enjoy the music you are making. I hope you’ll even think, “This is fun!”