Steinway & Sons

More Than Just Music – The Power of Piano

Ask just about anyone, at any age, and they will tell you they enjoy music. What music does for us, however, goes immensely beyond entertainment. The countless benefits of making music affect the body, the mind and the soul. Over the past few decades there has been an accumulating wealth of research that supports what musicians have always known – music makes us healthier, happier and smarter.

Play, Listen and Learn

Whether it is playing the piano as a creative outlet or as a stress outlet, there is scientific proof that itmakes us smarter. A UCLA study, spanning over 10 years and tracking 25,000 students, showed that those involved in making music had improved test scores in standardized tests and reading proficiency exams. A similar study presented at a Music Educators National Conference showed that SAT takers with experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 41 points higher on the math portion than students with no experience in the arts. Still another study showed that pianists, specifically, scored on average 100 points higher.

Tenth grader Brady Smith is proof of this. He joined the school band as a C student. “I have been playing in the band for over a year, and I am now an A student,” Said Smith, who attends Bellevue High School in Northern Kentucky.

And even the brains of babies are positively affected by music. During the first years of life our brain cells learn to connect to other brain cells. The connections we use regularly become stronger. Children who grow up listening to classical music develop strong music-related connections which actually affect the way we think and can improve spatial reasoning. (Dr. Diane Bales, University of Georgia)

For some children who suffer from speech delay or ADHD, music can actually help rewire the way their brains work through music therapy. “We can use music to tap into different areas of the brain and retrain their speech pattern through singing and making music,” said Mimi Sinclair, a board certified music therapist who works at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati and her private practice Music Therapy Services.

“What is powerful about music is that it actually gets processed in many areas of the brain,” Sinclair added. “There are ways to access the melody and harmony, and it can really light up the brain.”

You want to give your youngster’s brain a jumpstart? Have them start taking piano lessons. A Harvard University study found a correlation between early-childhood training in music and enhanced motor and auditory skills as well as improvements in verbal ability and nonverbal reasoning. Additionally, a July 2010 Live Science article states, "...pianists show more brain activity in their auditory cortex – the part of the brain responsible for processing sounds – than non-musicians in response to hearing piano notes."

Play to Stay Young

On the other end of the spectrum are the elderly. Sinclair has seen firsthand how a stroke victim can benefit from trained music therapy alone. “One family tried both speech therapy and occupational therapy and the patient didn’t respond. But when I came in and started singing songs that she knew she started singing along,” Sinclair explained.

Wanda Flick of Kentucky has been teaching piano lessons for 40 years and volunteering in nursing homes for 10 years. “I present an interactive music program in senior centers where we play rhythm to background music,” said 67-year-old Flick. “I have seen people literally bent over who wouldn’t bring up their heads to make eye contact and within a little while of listening they stand up and come alive with the music. We do patriotic songs and oldies from the 40’s and 50’s. These people haven’t heard these songs for years and years and they respond amazingly.”

In April of 2012, ABC News featured a powerful segment showing how dementia and Alzheimer’s patients ‘came alive’ by simply listening to music. “In music therapy with Alzheimer’s patients something very powerful and primal is at work,” explained Dr. Oliver Sacks. “Music can do things which language cannot.”

Once you learn to play a musical instrument, you have that gift for a lifetime. In fact, Edna Mae Burnam, whose piano methods and music are published worldwide by Wills Music, played the piano and wrote music up until she died at the age of 99.

Play, Relax and Rejuvenate

Studies show that playing a musical instrument can reduce stress all the way down to the molecular level. A study published in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine showed that 112 people were exposed to six music-making sessions involving playing the drums and piano. Participants noticed a reduction in job burnout and a noticeable improvement in their moods.

Researchers now know that playing a musical instrument can switch off the stress response, improving physical and emotional health. Stress starts in the brain and then kicks off a chain reaction that switches on the stress response in every cell of our bodies. Playing music sets off an opposite chain reaction that switches these genes off again. (WebMD Magazine 2010)

Classically-trained pianist Daniel Heller looks to playing as a way to unwind. “I’m fortunate to work from home and there are times throughout the day where I take breaks so I can play because it helps me manage stress,” said 38-year-old Heller.

There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that music heals. This includes a recent study that researchers at Drexel University conducted involving nearly 2000 patients with cancer. The review showed that people who participated in music had decreased anxiety, better blood pressure levels and improved moods.

Wanda Flick, a 20-year breast cancer survivor, claims that playing the piano was an integral part of her healing process. “For me, playing the piano during that time gave me a way to focus on positive feelings and emotions. By sitting down to play and focusing on the music, a person’s mind cannot wrap itself around anything else,” Flick said. “I’ve always been able to get lost in the music, and I’ve witnessed it in others as well.”

Kelly Zalla, Willis Music Education Coordinator, said she has personally gotten feedback from many students who claim music helps them to relax and unwind.

“People who play the piano notice a decrease of stress and anxiety levels in their lives,” explained Zalla. “There's just something about making music that soothes the soul."

Now that has got to be music to anyone’s ears.


Article written by Christy Schutte

January 2013


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