Bob Selvin


Research shows that piano students are better equipped to comprehend mathematical and scientific concepts. A group of preschoolers received private piano keyboard lessons and singing lessons. A second group received private computer lessons. Those children who received piano/keyboard training performed 34% higher on tests measuring spatial-temporal ability than the others — even those who received computer training. “Spatial-temporal” is basically proportional reasoning — ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time. This concept has long been considered a major obstacle in the teaching of elementary math and science. Source: Neurological Research February 28, 1997

Music study can help kids understand advanced music concepts. A grasp of proportional math and fractions is a prerequisite to math at higher levels, and children who do not master these areas cannot understand more advanced math critical to high-tech fields. Music involves ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time. Second-grade students were given four months of piano keyboard training, as well as time using newly designed math software. The group scored over 27 percent higher on proportional math and fractions tests than children who used only the math software.
Source: Neurological Research March, 1999

A McGill University study found that pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly for students given piano instruction over a three-year period. They also found that self-esteem and musical skills measures improved for the students given piano instruction.
Source: Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi, "The McGill Piano Project: Effects of three years of piano instruction on children's cognitive abilities, academic achievement, and self-esteem," presented at the meeting of the Music Educators National Conference, Phoenix, AZ, April, 1998

High school music students score higher on SATs in both verbal and math than their peers. In 2001, SAT takers with coursework/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 coursework/experience in the arts.
Source: Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by Music Educators National Conference, 2001.

Middle school and high school students who participated in instrumental music scored significantly higher than their non-band peers in standardized tests. University studies conducted in Georgia and Texas found significant correlations between the number of years of instrumental music instruction and academic achievement in math, science and language arts.
Source: University of Sarasota Study, Jeffrey Lynn Kluball; East Texas State University Study, Daryl Erick Trent

Students who were exposed to the music-based lessons scored a full 100 percent higher on fractions tests than those who learned in the conventional manner. Second-grade and third-grade students were taught fractions in an untraditional manner ‹ by teaching them basic music rhythm notation. The group was taught about the relationships between eighth, quarter, half and whole notes. Their peers received traditional fraction instruction.
Source: Neurological Research, March 15, 1999

Music majors are the most likely group of college grads to be admitted to medical school. Physician and biologist Lewis Thomas studied the undergraduate majors of medical school applicants. He found that 66 percent of music majors who applied to med school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group. For comparison, (44 percent) of biochemistry majors were admitted. Also, a study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math.
Sources: "The Comparative Academic Abilities of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University," Peter H. Wood, ERIC Document No. ED327480
"The Case for Music in the Schools," Phi Delta Kappan, February, 1994

Data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 showed that music participants received more academic honors and awards than non-music students, and that the percentage of music participants receiving As, As/Bs, and Bs was higher than the percentage of non-participants receiving those grades.
Source: National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 First Follow-Up (1990), U.S. Department of Education.

A ten-year study, tracking more than 25,000 students, shows that music-making improves test scores. Regardless of socioeconomic background, music-making students get higher marks in standardized tests than those who had no music involvement. The test scores studied were not only standardized tests, such as the SAT, but also in reading proficiency exams. Source: Dr. James Catterall, UCLA, 1997.


Piano Lessons: Investing In Your Children
By David and Carrie Brett
As a parent, you undoubtedly realize the importance of preparing your children for the future. Since education is one of the key elements to future success, if you were shown a way to increase your child's I.Q. right now, wouldn't that be a step in the right direction? You, the parent, must be actively involved in the education process to be certain your children succeed academically. Besides offering help and encouragement, there is another less known, but carefully researched "educational tool" that can help your children achieve greater academic success.
It is now known, according to numerous studies, that there is a profound link between music and intelligence. As a parent, it is of extreme importance that you learn more about the amazing results of these studies and how your children can experience the same benefits. Overall, the children who received the piano/keyboard training performed 34% higher on tests measuring spatial temporal ability.
The February 19, 1996 issue of Newsweek magazine contains two eye-opening articles. The first article entitled, "Your Child's Brain," revealed a study that was led by psychologists Dr. Gordon Shaw and Dr. Frances Rauscher at UC Irvine. It was found that after giving nineteen preschoolers either singing or piano lessons, the children's "spatial reasoning had dramatically improved". Compared with children who had not received music lessons, as displayed by their ability to work mazes, draw geometric figures or shapes and copy patterns of two-color blocks "Music," says the UC team, "excites the inherent brain patterns and enhances their use in complex reasoning tasks." The second article, "Why do schools flaunt Biology?" goes into greater detail about neurons, synapses, and axonal connections. Detailed, but not impossible to understand. We recommend that you drop by your local library and read the articles in full.
Another fascinating study done by the same UC team revealed that, "music lessons, specifically piano instruction, is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children's abstract reasoning skills necessary for learning math and science." Published in the February 1997 issue of Neurological Research, these findings are the result of a two-year experiment with four groups of preschoolers. In the experiment, one group of preschoolers received private piano/keyboard lessons. Another group was given singing lessons, while the third group received private computer lessons. The fourth group received no training. Overall, the children who received the piano/keyboard training performed 34% higher on test measuring spatial-temporal ability. Obviously, music enhances brain functions needed for mathematics, science, and engineering.
These findings can change the way educators view the core school curricula, as music tends to "nurture" the intellect and produces long-term improvements. Dr. Rauscher stated, "It has been clearly documented that young students have difficulty understanding the concepts of proportion (heavily used in math and science) and that no successful program has been developed to teach these concepts in the school system." As a result, Dr. Shaw added, "The high proportion of children who evidenced dramatic improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning as a result of music training should be of great interest to scientists and educators."
What the UC team's studies indicate is that music training generates the neural connections used for abstract reasoning like those necessary for understanding mathematical concepts. Neural connections are responsible for all types of intelligence and a child's brain will develop to its full potential only with exposure to enriching childhood experiences. Early experiences determine which brain cells (neurons) will connect with other brain cells and which will die away.
Drs. Shaw and Rauscher, through earlier studies, have reported a "causal relationship between music training and spatial-temporal ability enhancement in preschoolers (1994) and among college students who simply listened to a Mozart sonata (1993, 1995)"!
Although piano lessons are a fundamental way to give a child a broad appreciation of music, the benefits are largely non-musical. Incidentally, it is not important for a child to play a song to perfection. What is important is for a child to develop to the best of his or her abilities. The piano is the "educational tool" that can help accelerate a child's development.
Children that take piano lessons learn valuable qualities such as concentration, coordination and confidence. These qualities have been termed the "three C's", and they can help children reach their full potential. Complete concentration is required when studying piano. In lessons, a child learns to read two lines of music and uses both ears, arms, legs, feet and all ten fingers with the brain sending a different message to each of the body parts, causing them to work together. No other activity allows these skills to be used so constructively! Coordination of the mind and muscles is also developed with piano lessons, transferring into many daily activities, which can include improved hand-eye coordination, greater sports enjoyment, and the fuller use of both sides of the brain. Confidence is then developed as a child begins to experience the benefits of concentration and coordination. It is very rewarding for a child to complete a difficult task, allowing him or her to feel good about the accomplishment. In other words, the "three C's" can help build a foundation that will cause a child to grow and benefit now and also in the future.
In 1991, a pilot piano/keyboard project had some remarkably convincing results. In fact, it was described boldly as, "a revolution in the art of teaching." School officials and business leaders had nothing but praise for the project that was started in 1990, for first and second graders. Davis Elementary of Greenwood, Mississippi was chosen due to the ample room available, making it easier to implement the program. The program was modeled after a similar program in Japan, with the results being the same... positive.
As you can see in the bar graph, there were substantial increases in both reading and especially math. Without lessons, there was only a marginal increase for both. The percentile increases were based on the SAT scores taken before and after the program.
The results were pretty amazing when you consider that the lessons were given to a group of twelve to fifteen students just once a week. Sound familiar? It's just like the piano lessons many students receive today with piano teachers around the world. With private one-on-one lessons the results would probably be even better, especially for those who are encouraged to practice regularly.
According to an article by public relations chairman for the Sounds of Aloha chorus and the Hawaii's men's barbershop chorus, Tom Hutton, entitled, "Music improves school grades," the social development that results from a child who receives music instruction is only the tip of the iceberg. The real results are in academic achievement. The article points out, "Particularly in a child's early formative years, the impact of music instruction and activity on mental development is dramatic." There is also some evidence that the benefits are particularly pronounced in "slow learners."
Students with music backgrounds have consistently exceeded the national average on SAT scores by 19-31 points on the verbal portion and 14-23 points on the math portion, according to the College Entrance Examination Board. The investment you make now can translate into scholarship money later because of the higher SAT scores, saving you money in the long run.
As a parent, you only have a short amount of time to influence and mold your children in a positive way for the future. We're not sure who wrote the following, but we think it effectively sums everything up…
"A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, or the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child"


David and Carrie Brett

Science Shows How Piano Players' Brains Are Actually Different From Everybody Elses'
Jordan Taylor Sloan's avatar image By Jordan Taylor Sloan June 20, 2014

Piano lessons are sort of like braces. For a few years, everyone's parents paid a lot of money so their children could contort their bodies (fingers; teeth) and lie about doing something daily that, really, they never did (scales; rubber bands). Both were formative experiences.

But while everyone grows out of braces, some people never recover from childhood piano lessons. This is, in part, because true pianists' brains are actually different from those of everyone else. In this series, we've already written about what makes guitarists' and drummers' brains unique, but playing keys is an entirely different beast. Drums are functionally pitchless and achordal, so pitch selection and chord voicings aren't part of the equation. Guitar only allows for six notes at once and heavily favors left-hand dexterity.

But piano is the ultimate instrument in terms of skill and demand: Two hands have to play together simultaneously while navigating 88 keys. They can play up to 10 notes at a time. To manage all those options, pianists have to develop a totally unique brain capacity — one that has been revealed by science.

Because both hands are required to be equally active for pianists' to master their instrument, they have to overcome something innate to almost every person: right or left-handedness.

In most people, the depth of the brain's central sulcus is either deeper on the right or on the left side, which then determines which hand is dominant. But when scientists scanned the brains of pianists, they found something different: Pianists had a demonstrably more symmetrical central sulcus than everyone else — though they were born right or left-handed, their brains barely registered it. Because the pianists still had a dominant hand, researchers speculated that their equal depth was not natural, but resulted because pianists are able to strengthen their weaker side to more closely match their dominant side. Rachmaninoff would be proud:

Already, then, pianists are able to make their brains into better-rounded machines. But it turns out the heavy-tax of piano playing makes their minds efficient in every way. A study by Dr. Ana Pinho (whose name kind of explains her research focus) showed that when jazz pianists play, their brains have an extremely efficient connection between the different parts of the frontal lobe compared to non-musicians. That's a big deal — the frontal lobe is responsible for integrating a ton of information into decision making. It plays a major role in problem solving, language, spontaneity, decision making and social behavior. Pianists, then, tend to integrate all of the brain's information into more efficient decision making processes. Because of this high speed connection, they can breeze through slower, methodical thinking and tap into quicker and more spontaneous creativity.

Most shockingly, though, Pinho also found that when experienced pianists play, they literally switch off the part of the brain associated with providing stereotypical responses, ensuring that they play with their own unique voice and not the voices of others. Basically, it's the opposite of Guitar Center riffage — true innovation like Oscar Peterson:

But piano is a taxing and complex instrument for the whole brain. Real pianists are marked by brains that efficiently conserve energy by allocating resources more effectively than anyone else. Dr. Timo Krings scanned pianists' brains as they soloed and found that they pump less blood than average people in the brain region associated with fine motor skills. Less blood flow means less energy is needed to concentrate. Though that's likely true of anyone who's mastered a nimble task, it only compounds the efficiency pianists' brains develop through mutating the central sulcus and altering their frontal lobe's function. In pianists, the change in blood flow frees them to concentrate on other things that are totally unique to pianists — like their own unique form of communication.

It's a difficult concept to grasp, but it's one of the coolest things about being a pianist. When pianists improvise, the language portion of their brain remains active — like any musician, playing music is fundamentally an act of communication. But the big difference for pianists is that their communication is about syntax, not words. Dr. Charles Limb's study showed that when pianists solo, their brains respond as if they were responding in a conversation, but they pay attention to phrasing and "grammatical" structure instead of specific words and phrases.

So pianists' brains actually are different. They are masters of creative, purposeful and efficient communication because of the very instrument that they play. They are the naturally efficient multi-taskers of the musical world, because when you're a player like Yuja Wang, there is zero room for doubt and hesitation.