Highly Successful People Say Musical Training Impacted Achievements

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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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Here is a link to the NY Times article

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ROUTINES

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We have hosted several month-long Pledge To Play: 10 Minutes A Day challenges. 

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.

With love and music, Gaili

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Make A List

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Don’t you love lists? When I see articles written with lists such as The Twenty Greenest Cities To Live In, The Best Tacos in Los Angeles, The 50 Most Life-Changing Novels Of All Time, 7 Reasons Why You Should Lift Weights1,000 Places To See Before You Die, or The Top 10 Foods For Brain Health, I’m already hooked.

Of course if you had 20 people tell you where they eat the best taco in LA, you’d probably get 20 different answers. And how can anyone really give an objective rating of literature? Rankings are of course completely subject to taste and preferences, but still, it’s fun to see recommendations for cities I might like to live in, and new books I might like to read.

Some lists become famous, like The 10 Commandments, The Bill of Rights, and Schindler’s List!

I’d like all of the students reading this to take some time to make a list of their top 10 favorite songs and pieces. Any style of music is fine. Do you love a piece by Chopin that sounds impossible to play? Write it down anyway, because your teacher can find a simplified arrangement or can arrange the main theme for you during your lesson. We often love the songs we heard when we were in high school or college. If you want to play one of those, write it down. You might also like movie themes or songs from musicals. Go on Youtube.com and research your favorite artists, composers or songwriters and remind yourself of the music you love. I recently heard on NPR that some of the music we most strongly connect to is the music our parents listened to when we were young, so think about their songs too.

We learn the best when we are motivated to practice. If you are playing music you love, music that stirs your soul, you’ll have the best chance of progressing. Keep the list in your lesson assignment book so that you can draw from it in the future. Of course you need to practice your exercises, keep learning your chords and read music that is at your level. But make playing the songs you love, your reward for the hard work of learning to play the piano.

With love and music, Gaili

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Your Music Is A Gift

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My parents are very social people. When I was growing up they had monthly couples’ poker games and dinner clubs.  My mom played a weekly Mah Jongg game and my dad was involved with a masonic lodge. Their friends were always coming over and I enjoyed hearing them laugh and talk and loved to taste the candy and crunchy snacks my mother set out for them.

I was a very shy and sensitive young girl. Though I loved playing the piano, I was so embarrassed when my mother asked me to play for her friends. I was convinced that they had no interest in my playing and that my mother was forcing them to sit politely and listen. Most of the time I refused and ran to hide out in my room.

As a parent myself, I later understood that adults do really enjoy hearing kids play, seeing them dance, or share whatever art they study, even when it’s elementary. I regret having disappointed my mother so many times. After all, my parents were paying good money for my lessons; couldn’t I just indulge their requests once in a while?

Now here I am, a piano teacher asking my students to play in front of me for 45 minutes every week! How brave my students are to hold their performance up to my scrutiny. And I further ask them to perform three times per year for other students. Have I turned into my mom? Am I saying, just as she did, “Come, play for my friends! Let me be proud of you!”

Probably so; I AM proud so of my students’ progress. But it’s more than that. Music is so beautiful to listen to at any level. Sharing your music is truly a gift to others. Don’t you love hearing other people play? Really, who cares if you make mistakes? Making yourself vulnerable takes a tremendous amount of courage but I ask you to play in front of others so that eventually it won’t feel so terrifying and embarrassing.

Look for opportunities to play for others, even if it’s just a bit of a piece (the part you know best!) You can just say, “Can I play a little bit of what I’m working on for you?” Your friends and family will love it. Notice their smiles? You have just given them a gift!

With love and music, Gaili

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MUSICALITY

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Musicality is the answer to the question, “How do we turn the notes on the page into music?” It is generally defined as the quality of being musical, or used to describe a sensitive and emotive performance. Musicality is interpreting the music in your own unique way. Musicians want to do more than play accurately, they want to tell a story with their music, and take the listener along with them.

There are things that even a beginning piano student can do to increase musicality:

  • Listen to recorded music with a critical ear. Find the melody, and listen to it getting louder and softer. Are the notes high, low or mid-range? Does the tempo fluctuate? Think about the rhythm, and the phrasing. Phrases are like musical sentences, and there are breaths or silences between them. What is the instrumentation? Is it piano music, a band with a singer or an orchestra? Which instruments are carrying the melody? Get comfortable singing along with the melody. Singing is a great way to connect to the melody, and to develop an idea of how you want your melody to sound.
  • Next, consider the melody of the piece you are playing. Play the melody alone, physically taking a breath at the end of each phrase. Use a pencil to mark the spaces between the phrases in your sheet music.
  • Once you become comfortable playing the melody notes, consider which notes you might like to play louder or softer. Sometimes musicians play notes louder as they ascend and softer as they descend, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. If you’re playing a song with lyrics, which phrases are the most important or emotional in the song? You might want to play those a little louder, then get softer on the less prominant phrases.
  • Work on playing legato, which means smoothly connecting the notes (unless they are specifically marked as staccato, or have lyrics that are to be sung in short bursts like the phrase “It’s up to you” in the song New York, New York).
  • Record your playing to hear if the rhythm sounds correct. Are the eighth notes twice as fast as the quarter notes? Tap or clap the rhythm of complicated phrases. “Getting the beat” is best accomplished by feeling the rhythm in your body, so tap the rhythm until you absolutely feel it! Once you have a good sense of the rhythm and melody, some songs and pieces allow for rubato playing, which means being free with the tempo. Discuss the appropriateness of playing rubato (i.e. speeding up and slowing down a little as you are moved to do so) with your piano teacher, or listen to other interpretations of your song on Youtube or itunes to see what other musicians have done.

More advanced students should do all of the above, including singing melodies (you can wait until you are alone in your home if you’re too shy to sing with others around!) and tapping out rhythms that you know aren’t quite there yet.

  • Think about your pedaling. Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein called the damper pedal “the soul of the piano.” The pedal not only sustains the sound between the notes, but also enriches the tone of your piano. Listen to the difference between using a half pedal (depressed halfway down) and a full pedal (depressed to the floor). Which technique sounds better for the phrase you are playing? Record yourself using the pedal both ways if you aren’t sure. Sometimes just touches of pedaling here and there delivers the most tasteful tone to your piece.
  • Think about your touch. How does your hand approach and lift from a key? Like tennis, our follow-through can affect the tone of the note. If you’ve ever watched a professional pianist, you’ve probably noticed that they can take a long time lifting their hand from the key in a slow melody. It’s not just being showy. Having an intention of how you want the key to sound affects how you approach and lift from it. Watch some of our renowned pianists such as Lang Lang, Yuja Wang and Vladimir Horowitz on Youtube and observe their hands. While I believe that economy of movement leads to better accuracy, you might want to experiment with a slow, curled, upward release of your hand from the keys for increased expression.
  • Think about your body. The ideal posture is a straight back that pivots from your derrière with relaxed shoulders. Free up your body to move forward and back with the flow of the music, but take care not to hunch over the piano to avoid shoulder and back pain.
  • Relax and lose yourself in the music. Think about a memory from your life where you felt the emotion that you wish to convey in your piece, and play from the feeling it evokes in your body. Fully release to the sound and sensations the music produces within you.

That’s musicality. Let’s talk more about it in your piano lesson!

With love and music-ality, Gaili

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The Belles of Belgium

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Here in the Hamptons, the hottest thing on the restaurant menus at the moment are Brussels Sprouts. They are beautifully plated, delicious, and only around (fresh) from fall ’til mid-winter. Part of the brassica family (along with broccoli, cauliflower and kale), Brussels Sprouts look like doll-sized cabbages. Originally cultivated in ancient Rome, Brussels Sprouts were popularly grown in Belgium as early as the 13th Century and expanded throughout Europe by the 16th Century.

But the most exciting thing about Brussels Sprouts is that they are packed with nutrients that according to Experience Life magazine, “offer a powerful mix of cardiovascular, detox, antioxident and anti-inflammatory support.” They contain an amazing combination of cancer-fighting phytonutrients called glucosinates, are high in fiber (which aids digestion), reduce cholesterol and may reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C, and are a good source for tryptophan and essential omega fatty acids critical to healthy brain functioning. Brussels sprouts may boost DNA repair in cells.

The only problem with Brussels Sprouts is that they can smell like sulfur if overcooked. Here are some tips I grabbed from the chefs at East Hampton Grill to do right by your ‘Sprouts:

Choose Brussels Sprouts that are all green and tightly wrapped; yellowish leaves mean they are not as fresh. Just before you cook them, rinse them in cold water. Pull off the outer leaves and trim off the stem. Cut an X in the thick base to let heat penetrate. Boiling and steaming are not ideal and often lead to overcooking. Here are some ways to prepare Brussels Sprouts:

 

  • You can roast them in a 400-450° oven with olive oil and drizzled balsamic vinegar stirring occasionally until they become carmelized.
  • You can sauté them with garlic, onion and pancetta (or turkey bacon!) and sprinkle some pecans or hazelnuts on top.
  • Or you can sauté them first, then braise them in chicken broth or white wine for 5-7 minutes.

There are many wonderful recipes online that add additional vegetables, pine nuts, cranberries and sweet potatoes. Widely grown in California, I have seen Brussels Sprouts sold on the stalk at our local Trader Joe’s. As with any other food, enjoy them in moderation with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa, and protein.

With love and music, Gaili

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Have A Plan!

© Francisco Javier Alcerreca Gomez

If you are taking piano lessons, having a practice plan could help you to reach your musical goals considerably. Might you be willing to try it for even a week just to see if you accomplish more than usual? When we were in school we had assignments with due dates and deadlines that we had to meet. But now as adults, we must discipline ourselves, which is not easy! Here are some suggestions for creating a practice plan:

 

  1. Keep a chart- It is very satisfying to write in the number of minutes you practiced each day on a chart or calendar page. If you are really motivated, write how many minutes you spent on each piece or exercise. Bring it in to show your teacher, or if you prefer, keep it to yourself and note your progress from week to week. Do you notice a pattern? See what you were motivated to practice the most, and the least. What could you have spent more time on to further your progress? Make yourself a note to get to the things you under-practiced in the following week.
  2. Pair your practice with an event- Rather than setting a strict time to practice, pair it with an event such as: Right after washing the dinner dishes; First thing in the morning after you get up (a great time to practice when your mind is receptive); Or just before bed (another great time to practice; the brain embeds new skills into long-term memory more easily when we go to sleep right after playing).
  3. Form a habit- If you’re usually free on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday evenings, make those your regular practice evenings, and don’t let yourself get waylaid or distracted!
  4. Make a plan- As best as you can, make a practice plan each week when you get home from your lesson. Determine your goals for the week. What needs increased focus? When will you fit in review? Remember to work your exercises into your plan. Exercises improve your technique and help you to understand music structure so that you can read sheet music more easily.

Of course we can’t always stick to our weekly plan, but without a plan we’re less likely to practice consistently. If you have any motivational techniques that help you get to the bench, share them with us! Sometimes the best ideas come from students.

With love and music, Gaili

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ADAPTABILITY

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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.

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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.

With love and music, Gaili

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ANTI-AGING

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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:

  1.  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.
  2. Aging is unique- Everyone ages differently, even twins. Life experiences create unique genetic patterns as we age.
  3. 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:

PHYSICAL

  • 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.

EMOTIONAL

  • 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.

With love and music, Gaili

 

 

 

 

SUPER BRAIN

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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!

With love and music, Gaili

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