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Practicing Piano Helps Much More Than Just Musicianship

Many parents have told nearly innumerable children that “practicing builds character.” Even though those children scoffed at their parents, their mothers and fathers had more on their side than just an old platitude.

Recent research from the University of Vermont College of Medicine has shown substantial correlative evidence that studying piano, and, by extension, practicing, not only produces boosts in organizational and spatial reasoning skills but also reduces overall anxiety, aggression and other emotional problems.

Because such musical instruction helps build executive reasoning and helps focus children with cognitive disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, one would think that it would be front in center in almost every curriculum. Sadly, this is not the case. Many times, it is music, or other arts curriulca, that are cut first. Additionally, the United States Department of Education reports that fully 75 percent of American high-school students either do not study music at all or experience it rarely. All of these facts contribute even more to the sadness of the situation than otherwise because students who study music are also more socially adept than their peers who do not.

The beneficial effects of music instruction

Ever since the controversy surrounding the “Mozart effect” study by Rauscher et al., in 1993, scientists have sought correlation between music, its instruction and intelligence. The University of Vermont study, performed by 56-year-old psychiatrist James Hudziak, doesn’t show proof of number increases, such as, “Johnny’s IQ just went up 10 points because he played a Clementi sonatina.” Instead, it uses hard science to show actual physical changes in the brains of children who have studied music and then applied the children’s actual performances on spatial and organizational tests as bolstering data to the hypothesis that music instruction has beneficial intellectual and social effects. Hudziak said that the lack of formal music education in the lives of so many children in the U.S., juxtaposed with the data of his study, indicate the “… vital importance of finding new and innovative ways to make music training more widely available to youths, beginning in childhood.”

Cortical Thickness Maturation and Duration of Music Training: Health-Promoting Activities Shape Brain Development


  1. Jim Permejo Says:

    I am an engineer and use formulas in teaching music to my piano students. Mathematics is very much related to music. Major and Minor Chords can be learned faster with the use of these formulas.
    21 out of 25 chromosomes in the DNA respond to musical tones.
    this is very much encouraging to know and tell to those who say that “They love music but music does not love them” Now they can try !

  2. Pimontip Supatravanij Says:

    Im a private piano teacher in Bangkok Thailand. With my 30 years teaching experience, I know my students personality and her characters from the way they practice, learning in the lesson.
    I can read their mind through their music, when they produce the sound, tone and articulation on the piano. It reflect the habit and bahavior of my students.
    Try to inform and convince their parents for parental support in their children s music practice(which can frame and discipline their character and behavior indirectly, especially one who is hyperactive!), this is the most difficult things in the role of piano teacher.

  3. Heidi Lee Says:

    I currently have two ADHD students (one adult and one child, interestingly mother and son) whom I’ve been teaching for about 3 years now. Since I have no formal training in working in general with students with these attention challenges, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I have been absolutely amazed, though, by the difference of the results, even from one week to the next, when they take time to practice during the week and when they don’t. I am never surprised to discover how their individual practice week went based purely on how they are during their lessons. When they have practiced, they are grounded, focused and have no challenges with keeping their attention for the full 30 minutes. However, when their practice has been quite sparse or non-existent during the week, well, that is another matter entirely. The mother has, of course, had much more practice learning to manage her attention challenges and wasn’t even diagnosed until after her son was diagnosed with ADHD, as it was explained to me. But, even still, there is a noticeable challenge in how well she communicates herself, her confidence level even just sitting at the piano, let alone when she’s trying to play the piece for me, and just her overall ability to focus on the notes in front of her. And her son, who is pre-teen, he is nearly impossible to get to sit still and focus even a few minutes at a time. In contrast, when he has practiced a full week, he is calm, relaxed, confident, focused, polite, non-argumentative and has no problem receiving correction and instruction as well as clearly internalizes his accomplishment of learning the music. It has been an extraordinary experience.

    As both a seasoned piano teacher of 20+ years and a professional performance coach for performers of all kinds, including pianists and other musicians, I have also seen what a tremendous difference daily practice makes in terms of problem solving abilities, resolving nervous tendencies, having a quiet body and mind (during performance and everyday life) and how all of those seemingly tedious hours of practicing things like dynamics, articulation, honoring the value of each note and developing great sight reading skills make the difference between the accomplishment of being an extraordinary performer and player over simply just being able to do it on a more “going through the motions” level.

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