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Why take Piano Lessons?


  • Playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem’s sensitivity to speech sounds. This relates to encoding skills involved with music and language. Experience with music at a young age can “fine-tune” the brain’s auditory system. – from a study supported by Northwestern University, grants from the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. Nina Kraus, director of NWU’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory and senior author of the study, which appeared in April 2007 Nature Neuroscience. Other contributing researchers/authors: Patrick Wong, primary author “Musical Experience Shapes Human Brainstem Encoding of Linguistic Pitch Patterns” Other researchers Erika Skoe, Nicole Russo, Tasha Dees; info from http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2007/03/music0.html

  • A study of 31 children found that children who received keyboard instruction for two years beginning at age 3 continued to score higher on spatial-temporal and arithmetic tasks two years after the instruction was terminated (Rauscher & LeMieux, 2003). The age at which children begin instruction appears to affect the duration of extra-musical cognitive outcomes, and longitudinal research suggests that at least two years of music instruction are required for sustained enhancement of spatial abilities (Rauscher, 2002); ERIC Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting , Can Music Instruction Affect Children's Cognitive Development? ERIC Digest; Frances H. Rauscher; ERIC Identifier: ED480540, Publication Date: 09/2003. http://www.ericdigests.org/2004-3/cognitive.html

  • Young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive musical training. The brains of musically trained children respond to music in a different way to those of untrained children, and that the musical training improves their memory. After one year the musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, Visio spatial processing, mathematics and IQ. Dr. Laurel Trainor, Prof. of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour at McMaster University, Director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind; Canada; published 9/20/06; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060920093024.htm


 Elementary/Middle School Students:


  • Harvard Project Zero (http://pzweb.harvard.edu/) researcher Larry Scripp investigated how intensive music study could serve as the basis for academic excellence. His research at Conservatory Lab Charter School (http://www.conservatorylab.org/learning.html) attempted to identify innovative ways to incorporate music into the curriculum and then measure its impact. Among his findings: notational skills in music, not musical performance, correlate positively with achievement in math and reading. According to Scripp, “The ability to process musical symbols and representations, a skill relegated to the training of the talented few in the past, is a leading predictor of music’s association with learning in other subject areas”. He also found that musical pitch is more predictive of mathematical ability while rhythm is more predictive of reading ability.

  • Children with music training had significantly better verbal memory than those without such training, and the longer the training, the better the verbal memory. Researchers studied 90 boys between the ages of 6 and 15. Half had musical training as members of their school's string orchestra program, plus lessons in playing classical music on Western instruments like the flute or violin for one to five years. The other 45 students had no training. Students with musical training recalled more words in a verbal memory test than did untrained students, and after a 30-minute delay, students with training also retained more words than the control group. In a follow-up one year later, students who continued training and beginners who had just started learning to play both showed improvement in verbal learning and retention. -- Summary by MENC. Original source: Ho, Y. C., Cheung, M. C., & Chan, A. Music training improves verbal but not visual memory: cross-sectional and longitudinal explorations in children (2003) Neuropsychology, 12, 439-450.

  • A 2004 Stanford University study showed that mastering a musical instrument improves the way the human brain processes parts of spoken language. In two studies, researchers demonstrated that people with musical experience found it easier than non-musicians to detect small differences in word syllables. They also discovered that musical training helps the brain work more efficiently in distinguishing split-second differences between rapidly changing sounds that are essential to processing language. About 40 adults, divided into groups of musicians and non-musician, matched by age, sex, general language ability and intelligence, were tested. To qualify, the musicians need to have started playing instruments before age 7 and never stopped, practicing several hours/week. Functional magnetic resonance imaging showed the musicians had more focused, efficient brain activity. “This is the first example showing how musical training alters how your brain processes language components.” – Prof. John Gabrieli, former Stanford psychology professor, now associate director of MIT’s Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. (http://news.stanford.edu/, Nov. 2005)

  • Results of an IQ test given to groups of children (total: 144) who were provided with lessons in keyboard, voice, drama or no lessons at all, showed that the IQ of students in the keyboard or voice classes increased from their pre-lesson IQ score, more than the IQ of those students taking drama or no lessons. Generally these increases occurred across IQ subtests, index scores, and academic achievement. -- Summary by MENC; Original source: August 2004, Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society; http://www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/ps/musiciq.pdf; Dr. E. Glenn Schellenberg (University of Toronto)

  • “Music is an extremely rich kind of experience in the sense that it requires cognition, it requires emotion, it requires aesthetics, it develops performance skills, individual capabilities. These things have to be developed and all have to be synchronized and integrated so that, as a person learns music, they stretch themselves mentally in a variety of ways. What we are finding is that the kind of mental stretching that takes place can be of value more generally, that is, to help children in learning other things. And these other things, in turn, can help them in the learning of music, so that there is a dialogue between the different kinds of learning.” – from the Music in Education National Consortium, Journal for Learning through Music, Second Issue, Summer 2003, “What Makes Music Work for Public Education?” - pg. 87 Dr. Martin F. Gardiner, Brown University; http://www.music-in-education.org/

  • The arts are not just affective and expressive. They are also deeply cognitive. They develop the tools of thinking itself: careful observation of the world, mental representation of what is observed or imagined, abstraction from complexity, pattern recognition and development, symbolic and metaphoric representation, and qualitative judgment. We use these same thinking tools in science, philosophy, math and history. The advantage of the arts is that they link cognitive growth to social and emotional development. Students care more deeply about what they study, they see the links between subjects and their lives, their thinking capacities grow, they work more diligently, and they learn from each other.” -- Nick Rabkin, Executive Director of the Center for Arts Policy, Columbia College Chicago; Robin Redmond, associate director of CAP. “The Art of Education Success”, Washington Post, January 8, 2005, pg. A19


High School Students:

  • Students of the arts continue to outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT, according to reports by the College Entrance Examination Board. In 2006, SAT takers with coursework/experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 43 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework or experience in the arts. Scores for those with coursework in music appreciation were 62 points higher on the verbal and 41 points higher on the math portion. – The Student Descriptive Questionnaire, a self-reported component of the SAT that gathers information about students’ academic preparation, gathered data for these reports. Source: The College Board, Profile of College-Bound Seniors National Report for 2006; www.collegeboard.org

  • Nearly 100% of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology (for high school students) play one or more musical instruments. This led the Siemens Foundation to host a recital at Carnegie Hall in 2004, featuring some of these young people, after which a panel of experts debated the nature of the apparent science/music link. – The Midland Chemist (American Chemical Society) Vol. 42, No.1, Feb. 2005



  • While many executives turn to golf, tennis or boating for recreation, some unwind by making music together. They may be members of relatively large organizations like the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, whose 55 members are almost all executives, or of smaller outfits, like a rock ‘n roll band or a jazz ensemble. Beyond the pure pleasure the music brings, some executives say, there can be chances to advance a career. And creating a performance can help executives develop basic management skills. “If you are in an improv jazz ensemble or a small chamber group, you learn to think fast on your feet and how to be flexible and to collaborate and compromise, and that may yield a creative outcome.” (J. Richard Hackman, a professor of organizational psychology at Harvard University who has studied symphony orchestras). Amy Zipkin, “Learning Teamwork by Making Music”, for the New York Times, 11/16/03.

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