My name is Dominic and I provide piano lessons in Derby.
Today, we will try to see if music is good for our brain.
I just read two articles in the Guardian about music.
One is about concentrating while listening to music, and why and how music can help us concentrate. Doing two things at the same time should logically be counterproductive. But it appears that studying and listening to music, for example, is actually helping us to focus better.
The second article is called “Want to ‘train your brain’? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument”.
I want to talk to you a bit about this one, and the reasons why I mention those two articles are because I hope that you will feel the need to read them. They are really interesting.
So music is definitely better for your brain than apps… Wow, What a surprise really!?!?
I realized that students waiting for their lessons with a phone or a tablet (especially children) are generally more hyper and less concentrated during the lesson.
But let’s go back to the main subject.
Quote from the Guardian: “Musical training can have a dramatic impact on your brain’s structure, enhancing your memory, spatial reasoning, and language skills”.
After reading this, you start thinking that taking music lessons for you or your children might be a good idea?
Well, you are perfectly right…
Except that there are music lessons and music lessons… Both sound the same but are slightly different. Let me explain…
What is the standard in the UK to define a qualification in music?
If you answered “the grades” you are mostly right. Well done. So you are naturally thinking that the more grades your children will pass, the more the impact on enhancing their memory, spatial reasoning, and language skills will be important.
Well, let me explain a few things before you start to pay a lot of money for the piano lessons of your children or for yourself.
My students can testify that I’m not a grade factory teacher. When a student or a parent says to me “I want to pass (my children to pass) all the grades and I don’t want (them) to play anything else” I generally ask them to go to another teacher.
There are many and many teachers that are really good at teaching only grades and how to pass the exams. So What are grades?
Grades are an evaluation of what you know, of how you can play on the day of your exam. Nothing more, nothing less.
Am I totally a grades hater? No, but I maintain that working a few scales, three pieces of music, and a bit of sight-reading for a year will not train you to play music.
Music is a language and you need to learn to speak it, read it and most important understand it!
Playing only the grade pieces is absolutely ridiculous, three pieces on the entire repertoire existing and pretending that you are a musician is absolutely disgraceful and a barefaced lie!
Playing grades one after another without understanding what you play is like typing a letter on your computer without understanding a word of it. Or learning a poem in Japanese because it sounds nice but not understanding a word of it. So it is nice, it helps probably to train your memory a bit, but otherwise, I can’t see how it would develop anything else.
To understand what you play, understand the language, you need to learn it, and most important: feeling it.
My teacher uses to tell me: ” you are a musician from your first second in the front of the instrument, you don’t need to wait until you pass grade 8 to be a musician.”
Now You are going to say “But I don’t want to be a professional musician so… I don’t care about what you are saying Dom!” or “My kid doesn’t want to be a professional pianist just playing for fun!”.
So just one question then: is it really fun (For your kid, for you or me) to play a piece of music so bad that you can’t recognize the difference between an ambulance passing on the street and the piano playing of your kid or yours or mine?
Don’t you want your child or yourself to learn something from the piano lesson?
Also, why being an amateur means that you have to play so badly that people would want to throw a chair on you? Or a table? Or a piano (ouch)?
An amateur musician is a musician who decides that he doesn’t want to pay his bills with music… That’s it. It doesn’t have to stop you from being a good one.
Playing an easy Menuet of Mozart, “Fur Elise”, or “Les barricades mysterieuses”, or all the Chopin studies, is the same pleasure, the same challenge, the same investment.
I prefer a student who plays an easy piece with devotion than a person who plays a Chopin scherzo with his feet and no passion!
Practicing 8 hours a day is not bad, but practicing well 30 minutes a day is even better. A good teacher will help you to develop that good method of work. The problem with grades as the only goal is that you have a lot of time to prepare yourself for it. Generally, a year or 10 months when you only do that.
A lot of people don’t really practice at home and they really start to do it 2 months before the exams.
They pass their exams and forget everything about it.
I’m not an elitist teacher and I don’t look for a standard with my students, but if you think “I’m an amateur, I don’t want to play like a professional so I don’t have to practice really, because I just do that for fun” then you are not on the right path.
When you start, even 5 minutes of practice is enough ( I mean good practice). That’s my experience as a piano teacher in Derby and everywhere else I used to teach.
If you do it badly, how can music be beneficial for your brain or the brain of your children?
Do what you can and try to fit your instrument the best way possible in your life!
Now your main question is “How do you prepare yourself to pass grades correctly then?”. Well, my answer is… patience and… patience.
Learn the basics, straight away, learn music, expression. Your first piece of music is not a beginner piece of music, it is your first piece of music! So play it.
Finding a good teacher is really important.
That person needs to be a good musician who believes that teaching is something else than grades or a bank account filler.
Their qualifications are important, but the same as the grades, a teacher coming from a prestigious school is not necessarily a good teacher or a good musician.
I know so many excellent musicians and good teachers that didn’t go to any prestigious school and some others that come from the school with a name that would blow your mind and are just resting on their degrees!
When you meet your teacher for the first time you will know the one who has a passion for it and the one who doesn’t.
You also need to have the “contact” with the teacher, even if your teacher is a very good one, without the “contact” it will be tricky to build a bond with your teacher.
Just follow your judgment and instinct!
Oh yeah and all the adverts that you can see on the net about: “Become a pianist in 10 lessons”, or “With my method, you will play a Chopin study after 6 months!”. So all that adverts,… all of them, every single one of them!!! Are lies as big as Trump saying that he wants to give America its past worldwide glory?
If I say to you “With my method you will learn how to be a professional chef in 6 months” or “With my method, you will become a surgeon in 6 months.” Would you believe it?
If your answer is yes, then I’m sorry I can’t do anything for you…:)
If you want music to be a plus in your life, whatever if you want to be a professional or not, you need to be an amateur first, love it, learn to fit a bit of music time in your life, and then it will be beneficial for your brain development.
Before you learn your first Japanese poem, learn a bit of vocabulary and not just a bit of “how it sounds like”.
Otherwise, all you do is learning how to be a good “Monkey see, monkey do”.
Common guys! There is nothing more wonderful than entering in the world of music, developing your ears, listening to its magic, its emotional message. Music is probably one of the most universal human activities that we can share all around the globe! Imagine that you arrived for your grade one, with your Japanese poem, knowing exactly what you are saying, how to say it, and most importantly why you say it!
I worked on different academies and some of them are “grades factories” and when I was replacing a teacher there, I asked the students who were “ready” to pass their exams to play only their right hand to me, and they were totally lost! Seriously?!? How that way of playing the piano can develop anything in your brain?!?
Except for typing texts on your smartphone faster…
In conclusion, saying to your new teacher freshly met that for you piano is a hobby and you don’t have to practice much and you don’t expect to be good at it, it is like saying to your french tutor that you don’t really want to speak french because you are not a french professional speaker! Why taking french lessons then?
Grades are not an obligation to be a good musician but can be necessary.
So if you are interested in that two articles, there are the links for them:
Have fun and don’t forget, “playing wrongs note is insignificant, playing without passion is unforgivable!”.