Does piano playing make children ‘smarter’?

Responding to a new research study.

In recent years a succession of academic papers, blog posts and media articles have pushed the view that learning a musical instrument can have the knock-on effect of essentially making children “smarter”.

One line of thinking is that many of the skills fostered through learning to play and practising a musical instrument have “transfer benefits” in other areas of cognitive development and academic attainment.

However, that view is now challenged in a research paper by Giovanni Sala, a PhD candidate in cognitive psychology, and Fernand Gobet, Professor of Decision Making and Expertise, both at the University of Liverpool, and published in the Journal of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI), February 2017.

One difficulty in responding to Sala & Gobet’s findings is that alongside their strongly evidenced research paper they have also written a short blog post with the eye-catching title,  No proof music lessons make children any smarter, which is aimed at the general reader, and is now being widely shared online via social media.

I am grateful to my friend Mark Polishook for sharing it, albeit with the disclaimer, “Don’t blame me – I’m only the messenger” – a sentiment I would very much like to echo in sharing this research here!

That said, there are just so many great reasons for learning to play a musical instrument that I’ve never felt the need for spurious ones – and if it turns out that the notion of “transfer benefits” is such, then I hardly think musicians and educators need to lose sleep over it. Better to know the truth – and to focus on genuine benefits when extolling the tremendous value of music education.

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Initiating Practice

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

Download FREE Resources to motivate students to initiate their own practice sessions…

Here we are at the start of a New Year!  There is a general sense of buzz and purpose as we all set about getting back into our usual routines and perhaps starting new ones…

This post is about helping our students harness this enthusiasm and turn it into regular and habitual practising time which is entirely self-initiated! Parents will love this and will also benefit from this article.

The free resources below will help you start a studio wide practice challenge. To Download and save, simply click on these links:

  1. Initiating Practice – student chart
  2. Initiating Practice: Teacher chart (master-sheet)

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Piano Junior – the Big Review

Sheet Music Review

The current decade is proving to be a significant one for beginner tutor books, with new publications appearing thick and fast. In many cases these are a breath of fresh air following on from several years in which ageing “favourites” have maintained market dominance.

Latest arrival, Piano Junior from Schott Music, is one of the most ambitious yet. The series progresses through four levels, with four books at each, totalling a projected 16 books. The series is written by the well-known German composer and author Hans-Günter Heumann, with support and advice from experts Carolyn True, Melanie Spanswick and Sally Cathcart.

The first two levels are now available. Levels 3 and 4 will follow later, and I look forward to reviewing them in due course.

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Mark Tanner’s ‘The Mindful Pianist’

Building a Library

Mindfulness” has become one of the buzzwords of the decade. We’ve no doubt all seen the regular articles about it in the popular press, exploring the possible benefits of mindfulness practice for our physical and mental health, productivity, learning, and general happiness.

But what of piano players – how can we benefit from mindfulness practice?

It’s a question for which we might hope to find answers in highly respected teacher, composer and pianist Mark Tanner’s hotly anticipated book and much lauded The Mindful Pianist, published by Faber Music this autumn.

According to the publishers:

The Mindful Pianist presents amateurs and professionals with a fresh perspective on playing and performing. Applying the concept of mindfulness to the piano, this invaluable text explores the crucial connection between mind and body: how an alert, focussed mind fosters playing that is more compelling, more refined and ultimately more rewarding …

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Simon Reich on Improvisation: Part 3

Improvisation in Action – A Video!

In this series, I have written many words and imparted knowledge from my experience. But merely in print form.

I have mentioned a few times though, that you need to dip your foot in the pool and go for it yourself. That got me thinking about videoing myself noodling around until I “found” something that constituted a tune.

I’ve never done this before, so it was quite interesting for me as well. I put my phone on a shoe box and started taping in my music room. I only did one take and had never consciously heard this tune before.

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Ultimate Easy Piano Songlist

Sheet Music Review

Here’s a book that I suspect many will rush to buy – a bumper collection of easy piano arrangements of great popular tunes, from the contemporary to the classic.

With (according to the cover) over 90,000 units sold, the hits that make up this “Ultimate Songlist” plunder the charts across many decades, from Cilla Black to One Direction, from Nat King Cole to Elbow, and from Wham! to Radiohead. Movies are well represented too, with The Hanging Tree (from The Hunger Games series) and Let it Go! (from Frozen) standing out as welcome highlights.

In theory there should be something here for everyone, and in practice … there probably is!

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Blues, Boogie & Gospel Collection

Sheet Music Review

tim-richards-bluesTim Richards will be known to many readers as the best-selling author of the seminal Improvising Blues Piano, which set a new standard in jazz education publishing upon its first release back in 1997.

His follow up books Exploring Jazz Piano volumes 1 and 2, and Exploring Latin Piano (co-written with John Crawford de Cominges) have consolidated his place as a leading authority in the field of blues and jazz piano playing and teaching. Before proceeding, let me say that if you don’t already own Tim’s previous books, you owe it to yourself to buy copies right away.

Tim’s latest publication (once again brought to us by the forward-thinking Schott Music) is called Tim Richards Blues, Boogie and Gospel Collection – hereafter BBGC for short.

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Capturing the Spirit of Christmas

Sheet Music Review

Hot off the press from Editions Musica Ferrum, Capturing the Spirit of Christmas features 12 Carols arranged for piano, six by Barbara Arens and six by Alison Mathews. Several of Barbara’s books have been featured here before, and Alison will be known to many readers as the composer of Piano Planets, a collection of original pieces previously published by EVC Music Publications.

As with all Editions Musica Ferrum publications, the book has a high quality presentation with a traditional vibe. I’m a fan of this approach, and rather feel the score is a work of art in its own right! But what of the content?

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