Along with music, I have an interest in a language Learning (a hobby). In reading several articles about best practices in learning a new language, I was struck by the similarities in the way I teach piano to my students.
I didn't used to think that music was a language. Now I not only think it is but I think the best way to learn a musical instrument is to follow the structure of language learning.
So how did you learn language? Probably, as a child, you learned to "mimic" your parents and family members as they spoke. You learned a few individual words at first, later graduating to putting them together in phrases and short sentences. You made lots of mistakes in pronouncing things and probably the adults thought it was cute and knew that eventually you would get it right.
And you did. Later, In school, you learned what words looked like, and how they were constructed. You also learned how to put together more complex sentences into paragraphs. Perhaps most importantly, you learned how to express yourself in your speaking and writing.
So the journey of language began with speaking only, then later learning to read words and sentences. No one would expect a toddler to learn to write words and sentences before they learned to speak. That would be ludicrous.
Can this compare to learning a musical instrument? You bet it can. I've found that when I follow the same mindset of learning to play first and learn to read music later, my students find it easier and more motivating because they get to play great stuff right away. We begin looking at music reading exercises about 6 months in. It's rather easy for them as they're so used to playing the notes and rhythms they’re learning.
We would call this type of piano method a "playing based" method. These methods are fairly new on the music education scene. The only two I know of are Suzuki and the one I teach, called Simply Music. All other piano methods are "reading based" (you must learn to read music notation as you learn to play) and have been around in the same basic form for about 200 years. Here are some of the reasons I choose to teach the Simply Music method:
There are many more benefits but these are the most prominent.
I do know that I'm glad to be able to provide great learning and motivation for children and adults who want to learn piano but may have had challenges with other methods. For many people, learning to play the piano is really a dream come true.
Get this - "The greatest scientists are artists as well," said Albert Einstein. He was not only one of the greatest physicists that ever lived, he was also an amateur pianist and violinist. A recent article in Psychology Today reveals that Einstein's insights did not come from logic or mathematics. It came, as it does for artists, from intuition and inspiration.
In a conversation with the great music education pioneer, Shinichi Suzuki, Einstein also stated, "The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception." It's no wonder the Greeks considered Mathematics and Music two essential areas of study for all young students. Anyone not knowing there are important connections between the two has not been paying attention. Perhaps losing Music education in our public schools has a negative "Math and Science" fallout.
Check out this informative article.
A new, scientific study is out that investigates changes in the brain when creating original music (improvising) on a piano keyboard vs. playing an existing song by note. Charles Limb, a brain scientist at Johns Hopkins looked at the whole brain, and found more than 40 areas that were active during improvisation. And yes, the subjects actually played an electronic keyboard while in an MRI machine.
They found that the prefrontal cortex area of the brain changes greatly when improvising as compared to playing memorized music. And the part of the brain that "turns off" is the part that's linked to inhibition. He said, "So during creative playing, you get this combination of self-expression with the absence of conscious self-monitoring. We think that's how jazz musicians are able to improvise."
One of his jazz pianist subjects expressed that when you're censoring yourself, playing the notes feels physically different. "It's as if your brain is fighting with your central nervous system and trying to control your movements. But when you're in the zone, it just feels easy. It feels just like breathing or talking. It feels so natural it almost seems not profound."
In the second part of the study, somehow Limb (a pianist himself) managed to play a duet with the subject in the MRI. As they were trading musical phrases back and forth (a popular technique in improvisational jazz, called "Trading Fours"), other areas of the brain began to be activated - areas known to be responsible for understanding language and in speaking. It seems to provide a strong link between neurobiology of music and language.
Now, none of this is probably news to music educators but it's always good to have science back you up.
Terry Smith teaches piano and voice privately in the Phoenix, AZ area and online anywhere using an innovative approach called "PLAY NOW!"
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