Research Shows The Benefits Of Piano Lessons For Children
Reprinted from Pascack Press, Wednesday, September 8, 1999

PASCACK VALLEY - The kids are back at school, and if you're concerned about them making the grade this year, consider an unconventional approach: give them piano lessons.

Study after study confirms that young children who take piano lessons not only improve their coordination, they learn how to concentrate better too, improving reading scores, enhancing their memory skills and increasing their confidence levels.

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine are at the forefront of some of the lasts research on the merits of piano lessons for children. Their study, which took place over two years, found that 3 and 4-year-olds who were given weekly piano lessons for a year had improved their puzzle-solving skill by 34 percent over groups who were given singing lessons, computer lessons, or specific instruction at all.

Music is not just notes. It's patterns of notes and relationships between notes that you see as you play," says UCI neurologist Gordon Shaw. "And like in a chess game, you have to be able to see quite a bit ahead to play."

The theory is that exposure to music rewires neural circuits. Researchers in Germany, for example, have concluded that as a child grows, the brain develops parts of the sensory cortex dedicated to physical skills, like riding a bicycle or playing a musical instrument. These connections last a lifetime and are directly related to other skills we learn.

On a more practical level, Bergen County piano teacher Phred Meller, more popularly known as Phred, notes that preschoolers can make substantial progress in just the first four lessons. "For starters, they learn posture at the keyboard and the importance of varying the weight of their fingers to make softer or louder tones," he points out. "They also learn how to recognize notes, bar lines and measures and gain recognition of the musical alphabet. Finally, and perhaps most important for enjoyment, they learn the concept of low sounds and high sounds, which will help them figure out the notes of some of their favorite songs on their own."

The benefits of piano playing are at their peak of lessons begin by age 12, according to most researchers. The challenge, for many parents, is motivation children who may not think they want to play.

"I don't think piano lessons should be a drudgery for children," says Phred, who has developed a "Fun 'N" Easy" piano playing concept that is particularly well-suited for kids. "The idea of getting a child to 'practice' for an hour at a stretch is absurd," he says. "They can make significant strides in a couple of 10 minute blocks every day." Also important: let the child play music that is meaningful to him or her. "Scales have their purpose, but that should not be the ultimate goal."

(Reprinted from Pascack Press, Wednesday, September 8, 1999)

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