Do piano lessons really affect children's brain development?

by Ryan Langford 8. September 2014 12:36

Study after study shows that piano lessons are really good for children, not just for their musicality and coordination, but for their brains as well!

This infographic shows the cognitive, social and emotional benefits of piano lessons for kids, including a higher IQ, increased executive function and more success in life:

Presented by Encore Music Lessons

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Music and the Brain

Music for St. Patrick’s Day

by Derek Denholm 17. March 2014 09:35

The emerald isle has inspired many of the classical and modern tunes that we love to play year-round. Pipes, drums and harps are the core instruments featured in many an Irish tune, but today we find that the old songs and melodies have been reworked to inspire songs music that is a fusion of many instruments and lyrical styles. Indeed, today’s Celtic genre includes everything from folk music to jazz, pop and even hip-hop.

For our students near the Resound School location in Surrey, BC, we recommend they check out some local Irish music performances nearby at Celtic Fest at the Surrey Museum; our adult music students may also want to take in live performances at Ceili’s and Blue Frog Studios – this is your chance to see and hear Irish music performed by some very talented local artists!

What are the most recognizable Irish-themed tunes around? See if you know these ones – they’re classics that are fun to play!

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Danny Boy. “Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…” This ballad, written by English songwriter Frederic Weatherly is often played to the Irish tune of the Londonderry Air – it may be one of the most recognizable “Irish” tunes, most often sung in pubs from Dublin to Detroit, though it’s also been covered by a large number of famous artists.

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When Irish Eyes are Smiling. A joyful tune composed around the turn of the last century, this song has been covered by countless musicians in just about every genre imaginable. Canadians may recall an unusual and controversial impromptu performance of the tune at a Canada-US summit, by then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and US President Ronald Reagan – naturally, reporters coined the political event the “Shamrock Summit” (We don’t really see a problem with politicians singing songs together – if it happened more often, maybe some good would come of it!).

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Molly Malone. “In Dublin's fair city, Where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone…” It’s been called the unofficial anthem of the city of Dublin, but it’s also the anthem of a fair number of Irish soccer clubs. It tells the story of a beautiful young fishmonger who died young – and whose forlorn ghost haunts the streets to this day.

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The Irish Rover. This old Irish folk song was popularized in North America by the Dubliners and the Pogues back in the 1980s. It’s a fast-paced tune of a magical sailing ship headed from Ireland for New York city, that doesn’t quite make it thanks to bad weather and the unfortunate placement of some large rocks. Despite the sad ending, it’s generally quite a happy tune (which may be a commentary on Irish music in general).

What Irish songs would you add to this list of tunes you would play for St. Patrick’s Day?  

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Getting Musically Inspired by the 2014 Olympics

by Derek Denholm 19. February 2014 11:18

If you’ve spent any time watching the Sochi Olympics ceremonies and events, you know how important music is for this signature spectacle. One song in particular is so tied to these games that on hearing just the first few notes, you’re sure to recognize it:

That’s the Olympic Anthem, composed by Leo Arnaud. It’s called "Bugler's Dream". Of course, all of the Olympic activities are very much tied to music in all their forms; from the opening ceremonies to the musical accompaniment of the ice skating competitions and the edited versions of some of your favorite heart-pumping songs played during hockey matches, music is absolutely infused into the Olympics. If you check out this soundboard of some of the most stirring customized Olympic themes I bet you’ll recognize a lot of these tunes.

It’s hard to believe that it was four years ago when the Olympics were happening right here in British Columbia – that was an exciting time for us and our students. You’ll recall that at those games, Nikki Yanofsky’s “I Believe” effectively became the Canadian anthem for the Winter Olympics. Since we first heard it, many of us musicians have tried our hand at this stellar tune that possesses all the pageantry of the games, injected with a heavy dose of Canadian soul.

As it happens, a friendly musician on YouTube has taken the time to jot down the notes and chords you’ll need to use to play the song (assuming you don’t want to just play by ear). Check out AmethysTurquoise’s version of “I Believe” and be sure to click on the About section to get the info.

Of course, “I Believe” isn’t just an instrumental song – it’s Nikkie Yanofsky’s earnest voice that helped make it a runaway hit. Her unique vocal sound made full use of her whole body! How do you do that? Well, so glad you asked – let us remind you of our useful Resound School online resources, including Online Voice Lesson #2 - Singing with Your Whole Body

To achieve your musical goal, sometimes you have to push yourself and exploit these secrets the professionals use to go beyond their limits. Put some Olympic spirit into your music lessons and you’ll get there!

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Music Lessons When You Are Young Help Your Brain for Life

by Derek Denholm 6. February 2014 15:19

The value of music lessons continues to pay off for your whole life – even if you decide to put down the instrument later on. Study after study seems to back this up; the latest evidence comes via a CBC report about how music lessons in children can help stave off dementia when they become seniors:

In November, they published their findings that four to 14 years of music training early in life was associated with faster processing, 40 years after the music training stopped. None of the subjects reported practising an instrument, performing or instruction after age 25.

A similar study back in 2011 showed music lessons could help keep an aging brain young.

Of course, you don’t have to wait until you’re retirement age to see a boost in your gray matter. I often see among our music students at Resound that their learning gets better overall once they take up the study of musical instruments. I don’t know if it’s something intrinsic to music or whether the discipline of good study habits simply crosses over from dedicating yourself to practicing every day. I suspect it’s a little of both.

In any case, as this infographic shows, it sure seems like music and higher brain function go together – for instance, in 24 studies with half a million participating high school students, researchers found a high correlation between music instruction and better reading test scores.

Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Graphs.net.

As we’ve noted before, music education can boost your brain in all kinds of ways. It’s not just about putting kids and adults on a fast track to certified genius status – I think one of the biggest benefits I see in our music students is in their empathy for others. When you’ve had a challenging time mastering a chord for your guitar lessons, for instance, you tend to be more patient with others when they’re having trouble getting on the same page as you in a conversation – because you know that with time and effort, they’ll get there. Kids who play as part of a band understand intuitively how effective teamwork helps everyone – and they’re less likely to adopt a cynical, dog-eat-dog attitude. I notice those kinds of benefits all the time.

Music lessons don’t just churn out good musicians; they can help students become great people – and that applies to students of any age.

Do you have a story about how music helped someone you know to become a better learner – or a better person? Leave a comment and tell us your story.

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Fingerpicking Your Way to Fun and Fame

by Derek Denholm 21. January 2014 13:40
Jeff Beck came in fifth on Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." The former Yardbirds musician has been described as one of the most influential lead guitarists in the rock music genre – a guitarist’s guitarist. One of the keys to the success of his very recognizable guitar style? Fingerpicking.

Of course, Beck is just one of countless guitarists who have gone with the fingerpicking style to achieve the sound they have in their heads. Just listen to what’s possible in this video of Tommy Emmanuel, who shows off the style in a fast-paced frenzy (Wonder how he got that good? He’s been practicing more close to 60 years).

Fingerpicking is the way to get a separate melody, harmony and bass all at once, so your guitar solo really stands out. It’s easier to play arpeggios. You don’t have to deal with as much fretting hand damping, since you’re just focusing on the strings you need to make the sound you want. Of course, it does take strong fingernails…

Check out our video on basic fingerpicking style for home music lessons:

Within fingerpicking style, there are plenty of variations that work with different types of music. For instance, in classic fingerstyle, you pluck with your thumb, index, middle and ring fingers, only strumming for emphasis. Clawhammer is more of a banjo-style of playing where you’re only using the downstroke. In slide guitar, you’re making continuous transitions in the pitch by moving the slide on the string – a technique refined by American blues guitarists. Meanwhile, Flamenco guitarists hit keys in A and E because they’re able to focus on open strings, using capos in departures. There’s nearly infinite variation to choose from.

By varying your technique in guitar fingerpicking, you can take on a diverse array of musical genres and voices, from bass to tenor and soprano, all with the same instrument!

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Guitar Basics