“Does playing music actually make you smarter?” or “Non-musical reasons to study music.”

One of the strangest beliefs about the study of music: That you only study music if you have talent, are gifted, are good at it…. but the general truth is a huge percentage of us really enjoy music – it’s one of humankind’s oldest shared traditions… so what if we could prove that music is good for even the non-talented, or listeners, or essentially all of us? Could there be more to music than simply entertainment?

I remember receiving a sticker after taking a Royal Conservatory Exam one year; it read “Making Music Makes You Smarter!” After all the work I had put into my exam, I thought this couldn’t help but be true!

The truth is that though this has been the boast of many a music teacher, it was more intuitive than fact…. until!!

Enter Neuroscience and brain imaging technology. Introduced to me by this fabulous TED video by Anita Collins (which then spawned me to write a university research paper to explore this question of music making you smarter… but I digress:). This brain imaging technology allows neuroscientists to observe the brain in real time, that is when it is actually engaged in a specific task (i.e. alive). The stellar amazing thing that neuroscientists discovered is that the task of music – be it listening or even better playing! – is an excellent way of observing how the brain works. This is because music, out of many possible tasks, uses the most areas of the brain, simultaneously and synchronistically. This promotes all sorts of wondrous things including better memory, focus and concentration, improved IQ, creation and strengthening of neural connections and more grey matter and white matter (the building materials of our brains), boosts speech and reading skills, faster problem solving skills, heightened executive function (planning strategy, attention to detail), improved cognitive function (perception, thinking, reasoning and remembering), better motor skill co-ordination and sense of empathy. In summary, musical training actually trains and strengthens our brains for many other different processes and functions – i.e. it can help make you smarter!!

While the research in this particular branch is still quite young, the results have been overwhelmingly positive and research continues….

TED talk by Anita Collins:

The Royal Conservatory of Music also put out a great paper on neuroscience research which includes some great references:


So get out there and have fun learning to play music; knowing that talent or not, it is highly beneficial for your mind!!


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Nerves and A Sentimental Reminder about Playing Music…

Nerves. Performance Nerves.  Some people never get them.  But I have from day one.  this doesn’t mean I don’t like performing, I love it, but it still can make me very nervous…

Recently I’ve been preparing for an University music program. Though I knew they the approximate date – when I finally got a confirmation email from the school, they only gave me a weeks notice. Crazy!! I happened to have a piano lesson that day, and though my pieces had been sounding amazing at home, they completely fell apart at this impending doomsday audition… I sounded terrible, or terribly unprepared. This is what I hate about nerves, they can unravel your hard work and steal your musical gift right out from under you!! The crazy thing is: I can perform in front of a huge packed audience and not get nervous; but when I know I will be playing in front of highly learned people… egad!!

I’ve actually done some extensive reading on this subject, because this is certainly not the first time!  Interesting to note what is going on in your body when you experience nervousness, uncertainty, or very basically, fear.  There is a chemical reaction specially designed by nature as a survival instinct: in the primitive world, when an animal experiences fear, it is probably being chased by another animal; it’s going to be someone else’s dinner… unless it can run fast enough and get away.  So over the years, when any animal experiences fear, they get an adrenaline rush AND all the blood rushes to their extremities to boost a fast getaway from afore said threat.  All well and good if you’re being chased by lion, but what if you actually need your mind to be working, focusing?  If I’m trying to perform music, which requires as much mental capacity as I can muster, but all my blood which powers my mind is in my arms and legs, then what?  It’s easy to see how things can fall apart!  My body wants to run away, not perform!!

So how can I keep my body from this deeply embedded, fear and flight response?

Some ideas:  My teacher’s advice: always over-prepare to compensate for your nerves.  Know your pieces inside and out, so if your mind starts to fear, your motor skill, aka your muscle memory will kick in.   Then he gave a great breathing exercise, to calm and focus the mind right before playing.  Of course meditative techniques can be applied here!  You can also get your body flowing with some extra potassium, some performers use bananas, throughout the day and a half hour before performing.  This takes away the some of the physical manifestations on nervousness, i.e. my hands will stop shaking.  Another dear teacher friend suggested getting as much performance time as possible, and from as early on as possible, so a person gets comfortable in the spotlight out of habit.   All great advice I have worked with over the years.

There is another story which sticks with me: when asked why she didn’t get nervous at all when performing, a young gifted student replied: “The music is just so beautiful!  I focus on trying to convey the beauty of it to my audience as best I can!”  There is no room for nervousness, if your focus, your will, is so engaged.  And this is maybe the most important lesson for me:  It is the passion for music that can best see me through.  My will to make it into the music program so I can further my musical skills, my love of music, and bring more music into the world.  There is so much ugliness in the world, and while I can’t fix everything, I know I can use my creativity to bring beauty into the world.  I’ve been given that gift and that opportunity, to channel the peace that music can bring to others, and that is the main reason why I’m doing this audition.  If I can keep myself centered in this ultimate truth, I know I will do just fine….

I leave you with a beautiful video about another pianist whose passion for music got her through the holocaust.



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Effective Practicing for any Instrument and any Discipline…

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Stefon Harris: There are no mistakes on the bandstand…

Can music teach us to embrace our mistakes?

It is a common perception in our culture that making a mistake is bad, wrong, undesirable, embarrassing or even horrifying.

Now granted, some mistakes are undesirable,  however, it can be equally undesirable and detrimental to let a mistake discourage our inspiration and our actions.

In the arena of music performance(and many things in life), mistakes are simply always going to happen somewhere.  As performers, we are on display, exposed fully to our audience.  We can prepare for this moment, but we cannot rewrite our notes once they’ve been played; we cannot paint over our mistakes.  We are fully exposed in the moment, to whatever may happen.  It is for precisely this reason that music best exemplifies the potential positive power of a mistake.  It’s not the mistakes that matter on stage, it’s what we do with them after they’ve happened that shows true skill and grace.

Our perspective needs a slight shift.  Mistakes happen; this is a life truth we all know.  Really it’s how we choose to react to mistakes that holds the real potential, as you will see artfully exemplified by Stefon Harris and his band in this TED video.  If we can choose to see mistakes as a positive negative; as a new doorway and a chance to learn, then we may fully embrace our potential… in music and in all things we do…

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Inspiration from Paraguay…

This video inspires me.  People from a slum built on a garbage dump creating beauty and hope from recycling and music.

Too often we of the first world nations and/or first world wealth fall into what I call ‘first world problems’.  When we went out for dinner the potatoes were cold; some jerk cut us off on our drive home from work; we had to deal with our annoying boss again, we’re carrying just a bit too much weight on those hips, etc.  In our day-to-day, these issues seem so grandiose, and yet on a world scale so mundane…

I like to think that we as first world nation people, have much to offer, give and share with our third world sisters and brothers… and yet maybe the coin is double-sided and there is much that we can learn from them as well.

A few years back I traveled in Cambodia.  My mother was very worried for my safety in such a poor country.  And yes, they had so little in the way of monetary wealth that even me, a poor struggling student, was rich in their eyes.  This beautiful culture lost almost everything during the Khmer Rouge reign – family, friends, jobs, wealth, education, stability, to name a few.  Our assumption would be that a culture thus decimated, with no infrastructure,  would be unsafe and angry.  Instead I was met with people who understood that when you lose everything, all you have left is each other… the embracing warmth I experienced with the Cambodian people was extraordinary; out of mass genocide and poverty, came a real understanding of true love, loyalty and human connection.  It was then I thought we could be learn just as much from them as they could from us!

In our first world nations, it is easy to take art for granted.   Music is ever at our fingertips, art hangs decadent on our walls, architectural feats wind above us and below, plays/operas/tv/movies abound with a wealth of creativity, and even food is presented with artistic flare.  How can having so much access to art blind us to its true gifts?  Art is not just a frivolous and expendable hobby – it has the power to nourish our souls!  Especially in this crazy-paced culture we are living in!  How can we define history by our art and artists, yet in the present take the magic they create in our lives for granted?

The young musicians of the LandfillHarmonic are living the healing magic of music.  Art for them is not disposable, it’s indispensable.   The ingenuity to create instruments from garbage, and the hope created by the opportunity to play music is truly inspiring.  This is a lesson I hope we can learn from…

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7 Ways Every Child Can Benefit From Music Lessons

a big thank you to Carol Watson for this juicy article…

7 Ways Every Child Can Benefit From Music Lessons

Posted on December 11, 2012 by admin | in Nannies

As public school systems slash budgets and eliminate musical education programs around the country, more and more parents are forced to find private musical instruction for their children. For parents who aren’t sure if the benefits of musical lessons justify the added expense and hassle, here are seven of the scientifically-proven benefits of music education.

  1. Enhanced Abstract Reasoning Skills – Abstract reasoning skills, which play a crucial role in the development of mathematical and scientific aptitude, are markedly enhanced by musical instruction, according to a 1997 study stating that early childhood music education has a positive physiological impact. Children who actively participate in band or orchestra, or who have pursued private musical instruction, also tend to have higher math and science scores in adolescent and teenage years.
  2. Stronger Cognitive Processes – A Henrich Heine University study reported findings that exposure to music enhances the cognitive process, boosting language and reasoning abilities. After studying the undergraduate majors of medical school students, noted physician and biologist Lewis Thomas also discovered that 66% of music majors who applied to medical school went on to be accepted, the highest percentage of any group.
  3. Higher Standardized Testing Scores – On average, students with musical instruction and performance experience scored up to 57 points higher on verbal portions of the SAT and 41 points higher on the math portion than their peers with no musical background, according to the College-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers. Princeton, NJ: The College Entrance Examination Board, 2001.
  4. Increased Likelihood of Finishing High School and Attending College – Several studies, including one conducted in Florida in 1990, indicated that music, art and drama programs in public schools helped children to feel more involved with their school, and fostered a sense of community with like-minded fellow students that positively influenced their decision to stay in school. Similarly, a 2007 Harris Interactive poll suggests that 88% of those holding graduate degrees have a background in music education.
  5. Reduced Likelihood of Drug and Alcohol Abuse – The 1998 Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Report revealed that secondary students who were actively involved with band or orchestra reported the lowest current and lifetime rates of drugs, alcohol and tobacco use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has also issued a list of factors they believe could reduce the risk of adolescent and teen substance abuse; among them was success in school and involvement with school organizations. Children who are active participants in band, orchestra and other musical activities may face a significantly lower risk of addiction.
  6. Greater Self-Discipline – A paper entitled “Music Linked to Reduced Criminality”, which was released by MuSICA Research Notes in 2000, examined a group of Rhode Island natives from infancy to age 30. The study discovered a significantly diminished arrest rate among those who had been involved in music and musical education. The dedication, determination and willingness to sacrifice free time for practice and performance fosters a strong sense of self-discipline in a child, which may lead to a lower likelihood of anti-social behavior.
  7. Increased Confidence and Self-Esteem – Developing and mastering new skills dramatically boosts kids’ confidence and self-esteem. Through musical instruction, children are constantly learning new skills, improving them, and sharpening them to excellence.

Whether your child is enrolled in private music instruction, or is fortunate enough to attend a school that still offers a music program, the benefits of a music education are undeniable.

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New Entrance…


Yup.  I’m the new Lee.

I’ve kept her picture above because it does fit rather well and really she IS a good friend(and I need to find a photo that fits…) and we are both very smiley people who happen to play and teach piano… but this is me…


There is more, ever so much more to come… that is, I may have a few things to say… the purpose? to inspire change, growth, creation and music… it can only make us better human beings!

But this post is an introduction…. and a big thank you to my friend Lee.

Lee, you’re an amazing and inspiring person and I’m honored to call you my friend!

I am ever grateful that you have passed on you website to me and I wish you all the bestest in your new adventures….

Luv and Light and Good Things…


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The City of Vancouver is at it again.

1 Year to Happiness

Yep. I heard through the grape vine – anyone who knows the Vancouver freestyle rapper Un-1  – that Vancouver police are actually arresting musicians and confiscating their instruments. From a post on Un-1’s timeline:

“We need to rise as a generation and take responsibility to change our world. Police are arresting musicians in Vancouver now and confiscating instruments. The message made clear, no microphones, no crowds, no fun city. “- Un-1

Bagpipes and tambourines and other percussive instruments? Banned. Those musicians who play such instruments are no longer issued busking permits. Oh, and you can forget about amplification too.

This bylaw not only outraged music lovers and musicians, but even the Vancouver mayor himself. Seriously? Vancouver? Are you really that uncool?

There are other countries that do this too. In Britain, Bongo-player Graeme Conway was banned from busking in Newcastle for “annoying residents and businesses with relentless rhythms.” Apparently he made customers…

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Circle of 5ths and beyond

I call this the “Circle of Crazy.” It’s music theory drawn up into a nice organized visual. Clockwise on the outer corners it is the circle of 5ths. Going from the outside inwards it descends by semitones. Then there are patterns of minor 3rds. This list goes on. Enjoy!

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