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Interactive contemporary musicianship courses incorporating the piano as practical instrument

Music might be the medicine you need

IF you enjoy listening to music, then you’re not alone.

As Stevie Wonder once said “music is a world within itself, it is a language we all understand”.

Whether it’s blasting through the speakers in our car, playing in the background at work or booming through our IPod whilst we work out, many of us revel in the sounds that music brings to our ears.

I am grateful to have grown up in a household that always had music playing, and I continue to do this as an adult. I have a large music collection, a rich repertoire of music knowledge and I’m a good asset to have on your team at a quiz night.

Unfortunately, my parents taste in music was at times, questionable, and my memory has held on to lyrics of too many bad songs that I grew up with (“Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl, with yellow feath…”). You get the picture.

We know that playing an instrument is good for our brain, but the benefits of music is not limited to only those who can play.

For those non-musicians out there, who can play nothing more than a smooth rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star like myself, merely listening to music can have a powerful effect on your mind and body.

If you’ve ever jumped into your car after a rotten day at work and felt better after listening to a particular song at the highest decibel you could cope with, then you will know the positive effect that music can have on your stress levels. It decreases the cortisol levels in your body, which counteracts the effects of stress and anxiety.

Listening to music in the car has also been shown to reduce road rage as it progressively increases your mood whilst you are driving.

Music that we enjoy can also make us happier, as our brain releases dopamine whilst we are listening, which gives us an emotional boost that makes us feel euphoric. So music can play a role in reducing the symptoms of depression.

For those who want to boost performance in a specific area of their life, would fair better by playing their favorite playlist in the lead up to whatever they need to do.

Whether it be a speaking gig or an athletic performance, music pumps us up and energises us for optimal performance. There’s one major reason why people work out to music – it’s because they perform better when listening to it.

Listening to music can also help with easing pain. A recent study showed that patients who listened to music before, during and after surgery reduced their pain considerably, even more so than the use of painkillers. Music turns our attention away from pain.

As Bob Marley once said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”.

Sleeping problems can also be hampered by listening to music. It’s not only babies that can fall asleep to a soft lullaby. Music has a soothing ability that can even benefit us adults. So if counting sheep isn’t working for you at the moment, perhaps a countdown of your favourite soft tunes is a better alternative.

The key to music being beneficial to our psychological and physical health is that it needs to be enjoyable to us, personally. Listening to Kanye West when you’re a Mozart fan, or Kylie Minogue when you prefer Slipknot is not going to work. In fact, it will probably have the opposite effect.

To get the greatest health benefits out of music, play whatever type you want, and as loud or soft as you like it. It affects the emotional functions of your brain, so make sure it has meaning to you.

There’s nothing like music to make an event more enjoyable, to get one reminiscing about their past or to make you feel more alive. And there’s nothing like music to make you feel better.

In fact, music might be the medicine you need right now.

Dr Marny Lishman,,

The Multiple Benefits of Music Education

Music is a unique form of communication that can change the way students feel, think and act. It is one of the best tools for child’s development. Scientific research has proven that music education is a powerful tool for attaining children’s full intellectual, social, and creative potential. It speeds the development of speech and reading skills, it trains children to focus their attention for sustained periods, and it helps them gain a sense of empathy for others.

Music education also plays an important role in children’s language development. According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Dr. Kyle Pruett, Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician, agreed that the development of language over time tends to enhance part of the brain that helps process music. She added that language competence is at the root of social competence and music experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent. Reading and speaking abilities are among the most important skills that we gain through experience, and help us understand our native language and new ones.

Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem. According to Zabinki, music exposure to music education gives students an advantage in understanding basic mathematical concepts such as ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time.

Music education develops children’s critical skills: their ability to listen, to appreciate a wide variety of music, and to make judgements about musical quality. It also increases self-discipline, creativity, aesthetic sensitivity and fulfillment. Lastly, students and even adults who are engaged in music studies are sharpening their cognitive skills and developing social connections.

Eunice Maratas,,

Teaching April 10, 2017 Dysmusia – how dyslexic research and therapy can overcome difficulties in reading music notation

Cellist and language therapist Dr Elizabeth Morrow describes developmental dysmusia – an inability to read a musical score – and offers guidance for teachers in overcoming the difficulty.

About five years ago my professional life took a hard right turn, which has opened up a surprising area of inquiry. As a newly Certified Academic Language Therapist, I found myself in conversation with string teachers on a regular basis who were questioning how to help children who had difficulty learning to read music. It seemed to be a problem particularly in classroom programmes. When presented with such a student myself, I recognised behaviours familiar from Language Therapy – inconsistency, hesitation, lack of retention – that didn’t seem to improve when I applied my standard teaching practices. It appeared that his confusion stemmed from a fundamental lack of understanding about the entire system of note reading. Because there is no universal music-reading mandate, there is scant scientific research into this problem. Accordingly, I began investigating evidence of developmental dysmusia, an inability to read a musical score.¹

In conversation with friends and colleagues over several years, I found this issue to be more common than I had imagined. To expand my understanding, I issued an informal survey to string teachers and directors. Out of 84 respondents, 96.5 per cent said they had experienced students in their programmes or studios who did not or could not learn to read music within the context of standard instruction. 71 per cent said that it was common or somewhat common for these children to already have diagnosed learning differences, and almost 50 per cent affirmed that these children dropped out of their programmes.² This suggests a problem in need of a solution.

How can we help these students? The science of dyslexia research can help to inform the problem, and also inspire a solution. Because of our universal mandate for reading, dyslexia has been highly researched and remediation solutions have been developed through an approach known as Multisensory Structured Language Education (MSLE). As a Language Therapist, I use this approach daily to successfully remediate children who teachers and parents thought were incapable of learning.

Dyslexia research shows us that there are several parts of the brain that need to communicate with each other in order to be able to read fluently. While dyslexic and non-dyslexic brains have the same basic structure, research has shown that dyslexic brains lack essential wiring that allows certain areas of the brain to intercommunicate, to process understanding, and to store learned information. MSLE can actually build the wiring necessary for the brain to read fluently.

What are the problems inherent in our string music education approach that cause students with learning differences to struggle? Could the MSLE approach be a solution? Most string education programmes are taught from the perspective of learning to play the instrument, not how to read music. However, this can confound brains that are not sufficiently wired for reading acquisition.

A few examples of these problems:

  •  String students are taught beginning with open strings. From a reading standpoint, there is an immediate disconnect between the first two notes learned, D and A. There is no obvious relationship between these two notes that allows the brain to retain the information. From the very beginning, students must make random associations that don’t support retention in new learning.
  • Duration instruction begins with quarter notes (crotchets). For the purpose of beginning playing instruction, it is a logical choice, but from a reading standpoint, it is like learning the alphabet beginning with the letter M. The brain has to process additional learning in two different directions, toward longer and shorter durations, compounding learning challenges.
  • For logical reasons, combined classroom programmes typically begin in the key of D major. However, from a reading standpoint this approach doesn’t encourage students to draw upon alphabetic connections. Also, they are learning chromatic alterations without understanding meaning (one of my challenged students told me that a sharp means more fingers!) Acquiring knowledge without understanding the underlying logic makes it very difficult for certain brains to correctly build wiring.

A learning system based on MSLE uses all available sensory pathways to enhance memory and learning and contains these principles³:

  • Instruction must be systematic and cumulative.
  • It follows the natural order of musical language, beginning with the easiest and progressing methodically to subsequent elements, never skipping steps.
  • Every element is presented explicitly and directly, and inference is never assumed.
  • Each instructional session is diagnostic – the instructor must assess what is appropriate for the next lesson.
  • Synthetic and analytical instruction must be integrated into all teaching.

Some examples of applying these principles to music reading would be:

  • Using discovery learning to build understanding, beginning with the staff (stave), its history, structure, and meaning.
  • Learning notes (one at a time) by following the alphabetic principle – beginning with A!
  • Teaching accidentals only after students can name and identify at least one octave and have been fully introduced to the concept of half steps and whole steps.
  • Beginning duration instruction with the whole note (semibreve), which has the added feature of being different from every other duration, as it has no stem. The whole note cannot be confused with another duration, and the learning of additional durations proceeds in one direction only.
  • Practising handwriting notation, as dyslexia research shows ‘the effort of manually holding a writing instrument and forming letters engaged the brain’s neural pathways.’4
  • Adding new learning incrementally, and only when previous learning is secure.
  • Learning simultaneously to read notation and to write notation through dictation. Learning to analyse and to synthesise rhythms (break down and build up from component parts).

My work with struggling string students has demonstrated that this approach aids learning. It is not a quick fix, and it necessarily does NOT align with traditional classroom instruction. What it does do is draw on researched and proven reading systems to create a strong foundation of understanding (not just knowledge) upon which future learning can flourish.

Dr Elizabeth Morrow,,

Music education proven to enhance early learning

Music is part of everyone’s life. It is all around us, all the time. It can be heard on the radio, in vehicles, at the grocery store and in our homes. It can be used to calm or to excite, and it can even be used to help the learning process. When a child becomes engaged in learning through the use of music, it stimulates them in more ways than just being easy on the ears.

Tiffany Wibbenmeyer, a band instructor at Perry County School District No. 32, said that music positively affects students, and thata musical education can contribute to other areas of their learning.

“There are very few things that literally every single culture, in any era, shares, and music is one of them,” Wibbenmeyer said. “Music engages the entire brain. It’s so good for the growth of young, and even older, minds. Music invokes emotions; to hype people up, or to make people laugh or cry.”

Many years of research have discovered that music facilitates learning and enhances skills that children use in other areas of their life. Making music involves more than just singing or playing an instrument with your fingers; learning through music makes children use multiple sets of skills at the same time.

Through the use of music they learn to work their body, voice and even their brain together. Just by practicing an instrument, children are improving their range of motor skills, such as hand-eye coordination, much like playing sports.

Children love to imitate what they see and hear around them. As the child copies things they see, they pay attention to try and imitate everything from actions to songs and words. According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. Studies have shown that any kind of musical training helps to physically develop the left side of the brain, which is the part where language processing occurs.

Children who are musically involved, versus those who are non-musical, also show signs of a higher neurological development and activity over time. By learning to read music and identify patterns, they are constantly using their memory to perform, even by reading from sheet music. It also promotes craftsmanship and discipline, such as dedicating time to learn how to plan an instrument or a piece of music.

“Sometimes making up silly songs to go along with new material in a classroom helps students memorize things better in school,” Wibbenmeyer said.

“Even very young students use music to memorize things, just like The Alphabet Song. If you want to make something better you add music to it. I can remember songs I haven’t heard in years because the music helped me to remember the words.”

Listening to music has been proven to help young children detect different elements in sound, like an emotional meaning in a baby’s cry. Students who practice music can have a better auditory attention to pick out patterns and sounds from surrounding noise. By understanding music and how it works, children are taught to visualize the different elements and how they perform together. This can train skills in the brain that are used to solve multistep problems often found in math, art, gaming and even computer work.

Students also have been seen to improve test scores more than other students not involved in music. In a study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, students from an elementary school involved in a superior music education program scored about 22 percent higher in English and about 20 percent higher in math on standardized tests. Another report indicates higher SAT scores from students with musical experience.

“Students involved in a performing music group are typically going to score higher on standardized tests than non band members,” Wibbenmeyer said. “They will most likely get more scholarships, stay out of social trouble, and take on leadership positions later in life. Performing music uses just about the entire brain. Because of that, people in a performing music ensemble will be able to solve problems quicker and more creatively than their non-performing counterparts.”

Music education, even in early childhood, has been shown to improve brain development, motor functions, creativity and self-confidence in youth of all ages. Through programs or personal training, music teaches children expression and gives them a greater understanding and interpretation of the world around them.

“Music is so incredible,” she said. “Even without the benefits to the brain, it is something that needs to remain, and even be expanded upon, in education for children everywhere.”


  • Amanda Hasty,,

Learning the language of music: is it child’s play?

The italian Reggio Emilia approach is now considered the most progressive and desirable early-childhood educational approach in the world. These schools value children’s innate abilities and nurture artistic and creative intelligences through play-based emersion in the “poetic languages” such as visual arts, music, poetry, dance, drama or photography. But how might a particular language, such as music, be taught in playful and natural ways that honor a child’s inborn abilities for language learning?

Careful observation of children’s musical development has shown that it is never too early for musical learning. Musical aptitude may actually begin in the womb. According to music psychologist Donald Hodges there may be specific genetic instructions in the brain that make the mind and body predisposed to be musical, “Just as we are born with the means to be linguistic, to learn the language of our culture, so we are born with the means to be responsive to the music of our culture.” Neuroscientists even have claimed evidence that babies are wired for music from birth. This “wiring” forms as the fetus responds to outside voices, music, and sounds from deep within the womb. These neurological mechanisms may also have an embedded relationship with language.

During the child study movement of the early 20th century, the Pillsbury studies were the first long-term observational studies of children’s free music exploration. This classic study followed children from two to eight years of age and explored music activities, such as spontaneous improvisation on instruments, with very little adult intervention. Based on their observations, Moorhead and Pond found that: 1) all children had the ability and interest to experiment both with instruments and their voices to create music; 2) there was a strong relationship between the use of rhythm and speech; and 3) children naturally use movement and dramatization to embody their music-making. The Pillsbury studies were groundbreaking in the field of music education because they revealed that even without formal instruction, children were able to improvise and create semi-structured musical pieces.

More recently, a study was conducted involving children ages ten to thirty months where children were left alone to play with a variety of instruments. Video analysis revealed that children took great pleasure in producing sounds, displayed particular styles of performing, and used repetition and variations during improvised performances. Children’s music engagement, without adult intervention in everyday settings such as the playground or at home, has been found to contain complex expressions of children’s understandings of the world around them. These studies make it quite evident that children’s innate musical potential is often underestimated.

Musical play has been studied in music education research and has been found to be a natural way of engaging with music learning. Musical play has also been shown to increase overall auditory discrimination and attention as well as heighten musical skill development. When adults participate alongside children in musical play, the benefits are increased even further.

Adults might best support children’s music play by not considering themselves as authoritative holders of knowledge but as co-learners who are actively open and attentive to the interests of the children. For example, if some children expressed interest and curiosity in rain puddles, because a recent downpour just occurred that week, an adult might suggest playing with imaginary musical rain puddles made out of circles of string. Once such a scenario begins, children might then imagine that they are stepping around puddles and then play around with ideas for sound effects to accompany their puddle adventure. Some children might choose to walk around the puddle to the sound of the woodblock (sounding like footsteps), while others might choose to splash into the puddle with the sound of the cymbal. Some children might choose to sit down in the puddle to the glissando of a slide whistle, while others might imagine splashing their hands in the puddle with the accompaniment of a shaker sound. Together, both children and adults, play with musical sounds in playful and creative ways.

The Reggio approach emphasizes children’s innate abilities for developing “over a hundred languages.” Schools “inspired” by the Reggio approach employ arts specialists to work with children to provide high quality and intensive artistic experiences that allow children to build an artistic “alphabet” and eventually an artistic language for personal expression. One language in particular, music, is a natural fit for play-based, artistic learning. Does Mozart make you smarter or is there a little Mozart within? The answer may be both are true but the key is active engagement with music through playing and interacting musically with others. It appears that developing the language of music may, indeed, be considered, “child’s play.”