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!”
May is recital season. We walk those hallowed recital halls wearing our hearts on our sleeves, silently fearing the worst, while hoping for the best. Why do we agree to play in recitals and performances? Is it really worth all of the worry? Here are some reasons why teachers encourage their students to perform, and how to lessen performance anxiety:
Why is it important to play for others?
Preparing for a recital motivates you to learn your piece thoroughly. Never underestimate the fear factor where piano practice is concerned! Your recital pieces are the works you remember the longest, because you have rehearsed them the most, and have paid attention to the details.
It is important to become more comfortable playing in front of others. Even if you take lessons just to play for yourself, you will be approached by others and asked to play, and the more you do, the easier it becomes.
You get an exhilarating feeling of accomplishment when you have completed a piece and performed it in public. It’s like a graduation ceremony!
You get to see your fellow students grow and learn along with you. Participating in a student recital fosters a wonderful sense of camaraderie and mutual support. No one expects you to play flawlessly; your audience is on your side!
Playing music is a gift to the community. When you play, others get to enjoy your music, and you get to enjoy theirs.
Preparing for a recital:
Practice starting from various points in your music, so that if you get lost while performing, you don’t have to restart from the beginning.
Practice playing in front of friends and family members on different pianos, at different times of the day. Mix it up so that you become more adaptable.
Practice playing without stopping to correct mistakes. Just let the mistakes go, and move on. Then at other times work on just your problem sections by drilling over and over until you have them down.
If you find that you are having a lot of trouble with a part of piece the week before the recital, ask your teacher if there is a way of omitting that section or shortening the piece for this performance. Pick a piece that you feel comfortable playing. If you’re struggling with your piece even when you’re alone, you might not be ready to perform it. Keep practicing it for the next performance opportunity!
On recital day, do something that relaxes you. Meditate, watch a funny movie, dance, take a run, listen to soothing music, or do whatever works for you.
Strategies for alleviating stage fright:
Stage fright occurs when we are focused on our performance, instead of focusing on the music itself. Remember, it’s about the music, it’s not about you. Practice keeping yourself completely involved in your music–the melody, the rhythm, the sounds You are producing, and your expressiveness.
Anxiety disrupts normal breathing patterns producing shallow breaths. Deep breathing before and during a performance relaxes the body. When I make mistakes I take deep breaths to calm myself.
While you are waiting to play, try progressive muscle relaxation. Squeeze and relax muscles beginning with your feet, moving up through your body to your shoulders, arms and hands.
Seattle violinist Paul Hirata teaches musicians to halve your anxiety. Inhale, exhale, relax, loosen your tight muscles and let go of half your tension, saying quietly to yourself, half. Then take another breath in and out, relax a bit more, and let go of another half of the tension that remains. Continue breathing and relaxing and saying half, half, half….
Let go of expecting perfection! So many of my students seem to believe that if they make a mistake, it ruins the piece. That’s absolutely not true. Forget about the mistakes, letting them blow away like a kite. Breathe, and focus on the sound of your music.
Be as loving and non-judgmental with yourself as you are with the rest of the performers. If you are taking piano lessons, it is understood that you are learning and not a professional. However you play, it will be enjoyable to your peers. You are good enough just as you are.
If you feel that you need a little extra help, experiment with these before the recital day: Herbal remedies such as relaxation teas or valerian capsules, or homeopathic remedies such as Calms or Rescue Remedy are said to take the edge off of anxiety. Some professional musicians use beta-blockers such as Inderal to subdue stage fright. However, beta-blockers can create a detached feeling which makes it difficult to connect to your own music. Make sure that if you try one of these, try it well before the recital to observe the effects they have upon you, and your ability to play.
Play with love and joy. This is your hobby! Don’t sweat it too much.
We had a wonderful time launching our new books, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to SPARK the Mind, Heart and Soul at the music teachers’ conference (Music Teacher’s National Association- MTNA) in New York City. Conferences are a great way to learn about new research and trends in piano teaching, and to discuss teaching strategies with other teachers.
Melinda (editor) and I were touched by the overwhelming piano teacher support and interest in our method.
I have started this BLOG to give you the latest information surrounding music and the brain, to discuss strategies to help older adults interested in taking piano lessons (and their teachers), and to introduce you to my Upper Hands Piano books, which I have spent 10 years researching, testing and developing to help adults over 50 learn how to play the piano as quickly and as easily as possible. I hope you’ll help us spread the word about our blog, our books, and our monthly free sheet music! Thanks for following my blog and for your interest in piano lessons and brain health for adults 50+!