Scientific Studies on the Benefits of Music Education

Did you know…?

The pace of scientific research into music making has never been greater. New data about music’s relationship to brainpower, wellness and other phenomena is changing the way we perceive mankind’s oldest art form, and it’s having a real-world effect on decisions about educational priorities.

The briefs below provide a glimpse into these exciting developments. For a more in-depth treatment of current music science, visit our affiliate, The International Foundation for Music Research.

Did You Know?

Middle school and high school students who participated in instrumental music scored significantly higher than their non-band peers in standardized tests. University studies conducted in Georgia and Texas found significant correlations between the number of years of instrumental music instruction and academic achievement in math, science and language arts.

Source: University of Sarasota Study, Jeffrey Lynn Kluball; East Texas State University Study, Daryl Erick Trent

Did You Know?

Students who were exposed to the music-based lessons scored a full 100 percent higher on fractions tests than those who learned in the conventional manner. Second-grade and third-grade students were taught fractions in an untraditional manner ‹ by teaching them basic music rhythm notation. The group was taught about the relationships between eighth, quarter, half and whole notes. Their peers received traditional fraction instruction.

Source: Neurological Research, March 15, 1999

Did You Know?

Music majors are the most likely group of college grads to be admitted to medical school. Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. He found that 66 percent of music majors who applied to med school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. For comparison, (44 percent) of biochemistry majors were admitted. Also, a study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math.

Sources: “The Comparative Academic Abilities of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University,” Peter H. Wood, ERIC Document No. ED327480

“The Case for Music in the Schools,” Phi Delta Kappan, February, 1994

Did You Know?

Music study can help kids understand advanced music concepts. A grasp of proportional math and fractions is a prerequisite to math at higher levels, and children who do not master these areas cannot understand more advanced math critical to high-tech fields. Music involves ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time. Second-grade students were given four months of piano keyboard training, as well as time using newly designed math software. The group scored over 27 percent higher on proportional math and fractions tests than children who used only the math software.

Source: Neurological Research March, 1999

Did You Know?

Research shows that piano students are better equipped to comprehend mathematical and scientific concepts. A group of preschoolers received private piano keyboard lessons and singing lessons. A second group received private computer lessons. Those children who received piano/keyboard training performed 34 percent higher on tests measuring spatial-temporal ability than the others ‹ even those who received computer training. “Spatial-temporal” is basically proportional reasoning – ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time. This concept has long been considered a major obstacle in the teaching of elementary math and science.

Source: Neurological Research February 28, 1997

Did You Know?

Young children with developed rhythm skills perform better academically in early school years. Findings of a recent study showed that there was a significant difference in the academic achievement levels of students classified according to rhythmic competency. Students who were achieving at academic expectation scored high on all rhythmic tasks, while many of those who scored lower on the rhythmic test achieved below academic expectation.
Source: “The Relationship between Rhythmic Competency and Academic Performance in First Grade Children,” University of Central Florida, Debby Mitchell

Did You Know?

High school music students score higher on SATs in both verbal and math than their peers. In 2001, SAT takers with coursework/experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 41 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework/experience in the arts.

Source: Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by Music Educators National Conference, 2001.

Did You Know?

College-age musicians are emotionally healthier than their non-musician counterparts. A study conducted at the University of Texas looked at 362 students who were in their first semester of college. They were given three tests, measuring performance anxiety, emotional concerns and alcohol related problems. In addition to having fewer battles with the bottle, researchers also noted that the college-aged music students seemed to have surer footing when facing tests.

Source: Houston Chronicle, January 11, 1998

Did You Know?

A ten-year study, tracking more than 25,000 students, shows that music-making improves test scores. Regardless of socioeconomic background, music-making students get higher marks in standardized tests than those who had no music involvement. The test scores studied were not only standardized tests, such as the SAT, but also in reading proficiency exams.

Source: Dr. James Catterall, UCLA, 1997

Did You Know?

The world’s top academic countries place a high value on music education. Hungary, Netherlands and Japan stand atop worldwide science achievement and have strong commitment to music education. All three countries have required music training at the elementary and middle school levels, both instrumental and vocal, for several decades. The centrality of music education to learning in the top-ranked countries seems to contradict the United States’ focus on math, science, vocabulary, and technology.

Source: 1988 International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IAEEA) Test

Did You Know?

Music training helps under-achievers. In Rhode Island, researchers studied eight public school first grade classes. Half of the classes became “test arts” groups, receiving ongoing music and visual arts training. In kindergarten, this group had lagged behind in scholastic performance. After seven months, the students were given a standardized test. The “test arts” group had caught up to their fellow students in reading and surpassed their classmates in math by 22 percent. In the second year of the project, the arts students widened this margin even further. Students were also evaluated on attitude and behavior. Classroom teachers noted improvement in these areas also.

Source: Nature May 23, 1996

Reblogged from Pianonet

What’s the Right Age to Begin Piano Lessons

What’s the right age to start piano lessons?

Almost any age is the right age to start piano lessons.  It’s never too late to start, so whether your 6 or 60 it’s a great time to jump in and give it a whirl.  Some folks would argue that students who start in middle school catch up within a year to the students who started in elementary school.  Others would argue that waiting until elementary school is too late.  They believe that starting early – when brain formation is at its most malleable point – is crucial to providing the capacity for being a professional musician.  So how do you decide?

There are a few factors to consider….

Desire. It doesn’t matter what age your child is; if he or she can’t bear the thought of taking piano lessons, it will be no fun for anyone.  On the other hand, if a child has a deep desire to play piano they may be a great student, even at a very young age.  Sometimes people have to try it before they know if they will like it – starting on a trial basis is fine and may take the pressure off of students who are reluctant to commit.

Attention span.  A 30 minute lesson is difficult for some children and adults. It can be a long time to sit no matter how much they love piano.  Others have no problem sitting at the piano for an hour or more.  To get the most out of a lesson, a good thirty minute attention span is helpful.  However, it is possible to work with young children who can’t sit that long.  Breaking up the lesson with musical games, musical toys, or music technology often helps those with a shorter attention span to learn and enjoy the piano.   A fun, enjoyable lesson will make the time fly by.

Reading skills.  A crucial element of piano lessons is being able to learn to read music.  Children who know their alphabet and have some pre-reading skills are far more equpped to begin piano lessons than children who don’t.  Pre-reading skills often begin around age 4, when a child can grasp the concept of symbols and can even begin to read or at least recognize small words.

 Music experience.  Children who have a good background in music, either from a good classroom music teacher or an early music program have an easier time beginning piano lessons than a child who has had no music exposure.  But everyone has to start somewhere, and a lack of experience shouldn’t prevent a student from starting lessons.

Elementary school.  Generally speaking, most beginner piano students start sometime in elementary school.  I’ve taught students as young as 4 and as old as 74. If you think that you or your child would enjoy lessons, have the desire,  attention span, and reading skills than go for it!  It’s never too late to start, and it’s never too early to share a love of music, either.

Come on over, and let’s play!    If you’re not sure if you or your child is ready for lessons, that’s ok!   Please feel free to call or email me with any questions or concerns.  We can even do a trial lesson so you can get a sense of what’s it’s like to take lessons. Realistically, it could take a couple of months to get into the swing of things to know if taking lessons is right for you.  It never hurts to try!  I’d love to show you and your children around the piano, to share music, and to share a lot of fun and laughter, too!   Now is the best time to start!

*Reblogged from

The importance of listening to great pianists

English: The only known photograph of Frédéric...
The only known photograph of Chopin; Image via Wikipedia

Recently, I had a lesson with an adult student who was returning to the piano after a long respite from formal study.  She had kept up her skills by sight reading, so we didn’t have to remake the wheel, so to speak, when she started with me.  She’s strongly drawn to Romantic pieces, so I gave her Chopin’s Posthumous A minor waltz (No. 19 I believe) largely because I had the music onhand already.

She  learned the first section of the waltz and played it for me, and in discussing the work to be done, I mainly focused on hand balance and a sense of phrasing.  Though technically  proficient, the student needed to bring out her right hand much more.  I think that in learning the piece she had probably tended to overemphasis the left hand simply because there is a lot more going on in the lefthand, even if the music itself is meant only to add support to the melody in the right hand.  This is a common problem for many intermediate students but can be remedied by drawing attention to it and inviting the student to do some active listening.  In discussing this hand balance and active listening, I suggested that we listen to a few performances, so she could contrast it against what she thought it should sound like and what she was actually playing.

That’s where YouTube can really come in handy; I was able to find several performances of this piece.  However, to my surprise, the student had not been taught to really listen to the playing of other pianists, and in fact, could not readily tell me when a performance was bad.  I was shocked because I had taken it for granted that a student at her niveau would be familiar with referring to other performances and use them to inform her playing and would also be at least somewhat adept at distinguishing good playing from bad.  To address this, we listened to several different examples and discussed what we liked and didn’t like about each one.  After a few comparisons, she began to be able to hear things, both good and bad, about the playing.  So, as an assignment I gave her some of the following clips to listen to and asked her to take notes on what she liked and didn’t like in detail, on what she found particularly interesting or effective about the performances, and on which performance she liked the best.

Portrait of Fryderyk Chopin.
Image via Wikipedia

I also contrasted it with some of those made-at-home performances that I think are less successful:

To be fair to these musicians, they are not professionals and many are quite young, so the comparison is a bit harsh.  People playing at home on keyboards cannot begin to compete with professionals on Steinway grands recorded by professionals.  Additionally, these young musicians have probably not had enough time to think about music and listen to enough music in order to truly perfect these pieces.  I’m confident that one day, they will be able to attain the level of some of the performances above, and I am not trying to discourage them by including them in the less successful category.

Each of these musicians do things I like, and some of the professionals do things I don’t like, but I do definitely prefer the performances in the first group.

Ashkenazy’s is probably my favorite.  He also happens to be the most well-known of the pianists featured here.  Unfortunately, this waltz is a bit obscure and not easily found on YouTube, so I did not find a lot of greats playing it.  Anyway, Ashkenazy really manages to evoke images and feelings with his playing.  Listening to his performance, I think of a Victorian lady sitting at a window seat looking through lacy curtains and a beautifully landscaped lawn and garden where the sun is shining vibrantly and well-dressed gentleman are strolling arm in arm with ladies with parasols.  In other words, Ashkenazy’s playing evokes something.  Additionally, in my opinion, he chooses the best tempo and strikes a wonderful balance between legato, singing lines and the use of a slightly detached sound.  I find his dynamic choices to be very effective and somewhat unexpected.  His use of rubato is also quite wonderful.  (For a definition of rubato, click here).

So please listen!  And tell me what you think!  Who is your favorite?  Who is your least favorite?  Why?

One of my favorite pieces; Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2

Specifically, I love the first movement.  Unfortunately, my hands are small (can barely reach an octave) and my teacher in high school wouldn’t let me play things that I couldn’t reach, so this was out of the question for me.  I know, I know.   Alicia de la Rocha had small hands and still managed to be a concert pianist. But she mostly played Bach, not Rachmaninoff [ed.  I mean Prokofiev I think but Rachmaninoff also has proved a challenge for my small hands].  Very different things.

Anyway, enough about me and my hands.  About the Concerto:

Prokofiev completed his second piano concerto in 1913, dedicating it to his Conservatory friend Max Shmitgov, who had committed suicide in April, shooting himself in a forest in Finland, after writing a farewell letter to his friend Prokofiev. Learning the solo part was hard work and he spent part of summer in preparation, while accompanying his mother on a tour of Western Europe that took them to Paris, to London and then to a spa in the Auvergne, before a brief holiday near the Black Sea. On 23rd August he played the concerto for the first time in a concert at Pavlovsk, provoking a very divided response of outrage and horror from some and ecstatic approval from the more progressive.

The orchestral score of the Piano Concerto No.2 in G minorOpus 16, was destroyed in a fire, during Prokofiev’s absence from Russia after 1918, and was rewritten in 1923. In Paris in the summer of 1914 Dyagilev showed interest in what seemed the work of another of the fauves and suggested using the music for a ballet, eventually commissioning a work on a primitive pagan libretto, Ala and Lolly, which, when it was rejected, became the Scythian Suite, music that Glazunov found even more distressing. In compensation for rejection of Ala and Lolly, Dyagilev arranged a concert appearance for Prokofiev in Rome in 1915, when he played the concerto to the expected mixed response. Dyagilev now offered a more congenial commission for The Buffoon (Chout), a ballet eventually staged in Paris in 1921.

The concerto is in four movements and opens with a lyrical Andantino and textures, at least, that suggest the chromaticism and piano-writing of Rachmaninov. The second movement is a Scherzo, in the key of D minor, music that offers a technical challenge to the soloist in its busy octaves. The original key of G minor is restored in the third movement> Intermezzo, a march in ironic mood rather than the more lyrical movement suggested by the title. The virtuoso finale recalls in its first subject the first movement, leading to a second subject of obviously Russian character. There is an extended cadenza before the orchestra returns with the principal theme.

The following are a few different renditions of the Concerto to mull over.  I had the Yefim Bronfman recording in high school, so probably I prefer it simply because it is very familiar and comfortable.  As always, I love Evgeny Kissin‘s version because, well, he’s amazing.  Yundi Li‘s performance is also lovely.

It has been said of the work:

It remains one of the most technically formidable piano concertos in the standard repertoire. Prokofiev biographer, David Nice, noted in 2011: “A decade ago I’d have bet you there were only a dozen pianists in the world who could play Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto properly.Argerich wouldn’t touch it, Kissin delayed learning it, and even Prokofiev as virtuoso had got into a terrible mess trying to perform it withAnsermet and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s, when it had gone out of his fingers.”[7]

Furthermore, the cadenza in the first movement, which comprises close to half of the first movement, is among the most difficult in piano repertoire.

Happy listening!

Update: Watch Beatrice Rana perform the concerto during the Finals of the 2013 Van Cliburn Competition:

Music vocabulary; Portamento


por·ta·men·to  (pôrt-mnt, pr-)

n. pl. por·ta·men·ti (-t) or por·ta·men·tos

A smooth uninterrupted glide in passing from one tone to another, especially with the voice or a bowed stringed instrument.

[Italian, from portare, to carry, from Latin portre; see per-2 in Indo-European roots.]

In music, portamento is a gradual slide from one note to another. It is very similar to a glissando, but a glissando is deliberately written in the music by the composer and may be a long slide between two or three octaves or more. A portamento is a much shorter slide, usually between two notes which are quite close. Opera singers often used to slide from one note of a tune to another instead of singing each note separately and clearly. The habit of putting in portamento between notes spread to other instruments as well. When listening to recordings of violin playing from the early 20th century we can hear that the players used a lot of portamento.

Over the last half century portamento has gone out of fashion and singers and instrumentalists are taught not to slide from one note to another. However, there are some places, especially in opera, where it can be effective so long as it is not done all the time. It is a matter of taste.

The following are musical excerpts from 1) La Sonnambula 2) Duke Bluebeard’s Castle:

In example one, the portamento is implied by the slur between the E flat and A flat in the first full measure.

Here’s an audio clip of no.1.  Note that the portamento is subtle in this example.

In example no. 2, the portamento is indicated by the squiggly line leading to the grace note at the end of the first measure.

Here’s an audio clip of the second example.  It is the female character’s first line that occurs around 1:40 or so.

Here’s two different performances of the Liszt transcriptions of the song.  Notice the lack of portamento (it’s not really something that can be done on piano).

People often confuse portamento with portato, which means  slightly detached – it’s somewhere between legato and staccato.  Or rather, the terms used to be known as distinct, but now I believe, portamento is sometimes used to mean portato.  Once Wikipedia returns, I’ll sort this out once and for all.

In the meantime, some more examples of the strictest definition of portamento.

Here’s a piece I sang in college.  Definitely portamento involved here:

Aafje Heynis

A new discovery of mine.  Somehow I’d yet to have the pleasure of hearing this lovely voice until a friend of mine introduced me via this YouTube video:

I’m not entirely sure whether my enchantment came from the vocalist or from the piece or from the circumstances, but I’m enchanted, that’s fore sure.

Here’s some biographical details on Heynis.

Aafje Heynis (born 2 May 1924, Krommenie) is a Dutch contralto. In 1961, she was awarded the Harriet Cohen International Music Award. A tea rose, hybridised by Buisman 1964, was named after her.
[edit] Biography

As young as aged four she sang in the child choir and together with her father at the harmonium. On the advice of Jan Mienes, the conductor of the choral society in her native town of Krommenie she auditioned for teacher Jo Immink in Amsterdam with an arrangement of the “Pilgrims’ Chorus” from Wagner’s “Tannhauser”. After that from 1946 to 1949, her singing teacher was Aaltje Noorderwier-Reddingius and was given good advice by Laurens Bogtman, the great oratorio singer.

She quickly established her reputation, to begin with in the field of oratorio. With her performance in Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the direction of Eduard van Beinum, she attracted wide attention. She performed many concerts in churches, Lieder recitals, and numerous performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. For the Philips label she made a whole series of recordings of works by Brahms, Bach, Handel and Mendelssohn.

However Aafje Heynis showed a particular preference for Gustav Mahler, one consequence of which was a legendary recording of Mahler’s Symphony No.2 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink.

Here she is singing Strauss’ “Morgen.”

For comparison, here’s a recording of Morgen with which I (and most others) are very familiar.  The Great Elisabeth Schwarzkopf:

And for some more Heynis examples:

Because I’m pretty sick (flu or something), I’m going to forego analyzing these performances for now.  Instead, I’m just going to listen.  Feel free to share what you think, however.

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