Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
The name was on the tip of my tongue, and I even recalled stories of how he developed his musical taste through hearing marching bands and thus frequently hearing two or three different marches played simultaneously and, in the right location, equally loudly. But the name! So I entered “American composer dissonant” in my search engine (Duck Duck Go), and the top of the hit list was the Wikipedia entry for Charles Ives. Thank goodness.
A very interesting finding. I suggest, however, that it is not the lessons but the practice—that is, not the teaching but the learning—that makes the difference. Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard:
There is no longer any doubt that student musicians perform better than their peers on a variety of measures, including getting better grades. But the chicken-and-egg question lingers: Is this effect due to their musical training? Or are sharper, more motivated kids more likely to take up an instrument?
While it doesn’t provide a definitive answer, new research from Germany presents evidence that improved academic performance truly is a result of musical training.
“Even after controlling for a large number of parental background differences, learning a musical instrument is associated with better cognitive skills and school grades, as well as higher conscientiousness, openness and ambition,” report Adrian Hille and Jurgen Schupp of the German Institute for Economic Research.
Reverse causality is “highly unlikely to entirely explain our results,” they add.
Hille and Schupp used data from the German Socioeconomic Panel Study, which includes data on “the intensity and duration of music activities” on the part of youngsters, as well as detailed information on their academic achievements and family background. The researchers categorized youngsters as “musically active” if they “played a musical instrument at least between age 8 and 17, and who take music lessons outside of school.”
They found musically active kids are “more conscientious, open and ambitious” than their non-musical peers. In addition, they scored significantly higher on a standard cognitive skills test—an advantage that, somewhat surprisingly, “is driven by verbal rather than mathematical skills.”
Young musicians were about 15 percent more likely than non-musicians to report they were planning to attend a university after graduating from high school. “Adolescents of low or medium socioeconomic status with music training are more optimistic about their future chances of success,” the researchers write. “Other than that, results do not differ by socioeconomic origin.”
While other extracurricular activities were similarly linked to greater intellectual and emotional development, they found music had the strongest impact by far. “Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance,” they write. . .
I think that some of the benefit of musical training is the clear demonstration that practice improves performance: in effect, studying music inculcates a “growth mindset” (in the terms Carol Dweck uses in her (excellent and highly-recommended) book Mindset. Students learn that applied, conscious effort makes things that were initially difficult become easy, so perhaps that lesson is then applied in other contexts: facing serious difficulties in (say) learning calculus, those with a growth mindset buckle down to work, those with a “talent/gift” mindset decide that they must not have a talent/gift for calculus and drop out.
The reason music would teach so well that steady, applied effort produces improvement is that the students can readily hear the difference that practice makes.
Don’t you agree? I’m trying to be accurate, and not be catty. They really do seem to strike the same philosophical and psychological chord, but in different fields. Without being either for or against either man, just looking at each as a news/entertainment phenomenon, you can place them close together on just about any dimension save field-specific ones. That is, abstract only very slightly, and you’re looking at the same thing.
I have a vague memory of two Hollywood execs raving about some recent film and ribbing a producer on not having that movie. “Are you kidding? I already own it,” and named a movie he had made some years ago. The two had a good laugh, went home, and as one later wrote, the more he thought about it, the more he realized the producer was right. It was the same story. The exact same story, but different characters, different MacGuffin, different time, different county, but: exactly the same story.
That’s what we have here: These two are the same story. In music, I guess it would be different songs, same chord progression.
I took years of music lessons, but I had no idea at all how to practice and so the time was in large part wasted. I just came across a very useful NPR post (including a video) that lists the essential steps to effective practice. For example, just point 4 would have done a lot:
4. Begin with the end in mind: Have a goal for each practice session before you start playing. Just playing through your music isn’t the same thing as practicing.Before you start, think: What do I want to accomplish today? If you’re not sure what you need to focus on, ask your teacher for a few concrete goals to work toward before the next lesson — and write them down so that you can refer to them during your practice sessions.
For those whose interest is specifically the piano—a dwindling cohort—I strongly recommend Playing the Piano for Pleasure, by Charles Cooke. Cooke was an amateur pianist who worked for the New Yorker and wrote many profiles of professional musicians. Whenever the subject interviewed was a pianist, Cooke asked quite a few questions related to his own interest in playing the piano, and ultimately wrote this (wonderful) book, based on what he learned.
The link is to relatively inexpensive hardbound editions. Cooke used two-color printing to show how he marks up a score to make it easier to learn and play—his markings printed in red on the score printed in black. Unfortunately, the paperback versions are (a) paginated incorrectly and (b) printed only in black, so in looking at the score his markings are indistinguishable from the original score. So the only recourse is to get the hardbound edition, but if you’re an amateur pianist, it’s a totally wonderful book. (It would be a fantastic gift for a pianist.)
Video of Gould near the end of his life, working on The Art of Fugue.
Fascinating article. The Son once played harmonica.