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    Making The Brain Better Through Music


    Here’s a story on some very specific ways that music benefits children and their brain development.

    Pacific Standard writes about a group of researchers who gathered 44 children ranging in age from six to nine and followed them over the course of three years. All of the children came from gang-infested parts of Los Angeles and lived in communities stricken with poverty.

    When the research began, 16 students were exposed to music instruction from the Harmony Project, a nonprofit that bring music education to low-income families. The remaining children waited one year before they received instruction.

    At the end of the second year, the two groups were evaluated for how well they could process sound, including how quickly they could differentiate the syllables “ba” and “ga.” Researchers discovered that all students who particiapted in music lessons had improvement in neural functions compared to when they first particiapted in the project. Also, the children who participated in music for two years displayed “marked improvement” in distinguishing sounds.

    “This suggests that music training transferred to non-music listening settings to influence automatic auditory processing,” according to Pacific Standard that quoted the research report from Nina Kraus of Northwestern University and her colleagues. “These improvements were in processes that are important for everyday communication.”

    “Previous investigations have revealed that, as groups, children who are better readers, and children who hear better in noise, show stronger neural distinctions of these same syllables. These findings therefore provide support for the efficacy of community and co-curricular music program to engender improvements in nervous system function.”

    Unfortunately, we know that children living in poverty deal with stresses that other kids cannot imagine. The stress can affect performance at school and we love the idea of music as a way to close the achievement gap.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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    Playing in a Virtual Band

    What if you played in a band but never once shook the hand of your drummer or only saw the pixelated version of your lead singer’s face? What if the only thing that kept your band together was the power of technology?

    We were intrigued by the notion of a virtual band after we read a proposal by musicians Harley Cross and Lauren Turk of The New History. They’re vying for a $100,000 prize from the Goldhirsh Foundation’s LA2050 campaign and proposed a tech-centered way of educating kids about music. With their Play With Music Platform, school children would receive music education as well as basic training in audio engineering and sound design and apply their new skills by playing in a virtual band.

    “Imagine kids in South LA creating ‘virtual bands’ with kids from Beverly Hills, interacting together to build something they love, with musicians they mutually admire,” the proposal states.

    We’re passionate about exposing children to the power and beauty of music and glad there are people like Cross and Turk to lead the way.

    We were also intrigued about the viability of a virtual band. We know this isn’t a new idea. Rappers Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre performed songs with deceased rapper Tupac at Coachella a few years ago and that is certainly a type of virtual musical performance. Also, several bands rehearse in different locations thanks to providers like JamLink. However, has any band existed solely in cyberspace? Would you want to be in a virtual band? Recently, we wrote a blog post about how human-generated music is preferred over machine-powered beats because of mistakes in reading the music.  Indeed, it’s the minor mistakes that make music captivating. We think this will continue to be an issue as technology advances and we’re excited to see how it evolves!

    Learn more about the LA2050 campaign and, while you’re there, vote for your favorite proposal.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us  to learn more.

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    Baby Got Class – New Viral Video Reminds Us That Music Is Fun

    The Holderness family has had us laughing for a while. Last year, they wore matching pajamas for a Christmas video that became a viral sensation on the Internet and we’ve quickly become big fans of their latest video.

    Their “Baby Got Class” video pokes fun of the back to school season, a time of the year when restless kids stock up on an ever-growing list of school supplies and tired parents can once again enjoy a quiet house. The song is a parody of rap classic “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix A Lot and we were impressed with how well the words of the parody song matched the syllables and rhythm of the original tune.

    “I like them big and round, backpacks for my kids,” father Penn Holdernesss raps in one verse. “They got to weigh a ton ‘cuz this shopping list is not fun.”

    The benefits of music lessons are well documented. Taking music lessons can enhance children’s math and reading skills, improve their memory and fosters creativity.  However, at its core music should be fun. It should be expressive, a shared experience and, sometimes, silly.

    Just like the Holderness family.

    Are you ready to start making music and having fun? The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call today to learn more.

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    Watch 6-year-old Piano Prodigy, Emily Bear on the Ellen Show

    This is six-year-old Emily Bear’s first performance on the Ellen show, where she shows off her range as a pianist from classical to ragtime – all pieces extremely advanced for even a 10-year-old, much less at age 6.  This child has studied for only a year and three months, learning pieces that are at least high school-level repertoire for most piano students.  Emily’s compositions are also very impressive.

    Emily started at age four, which is the earliest age for piano lessons offered at the Music Junction.  Our lesson plan for 4-year-olds includes an introduction to all music concepts in a fun, activity-oriented way using an up-to-date lesson books series by Nancy Faber called “My First Piano Adventure.” Students are able to build a strong foundation, focusing on concepts like long/short/soft/loud/high/low and then moving on to understand note reading and developing finger technique.

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    How to Compliment a Child: “You’re a Hard Worker” versus “You’re Smart”

    Parents and Teachers all agree that they would like children to correlate their success at school to how much work they put in.  So that, for example, a child who fails a spelling test will think “I didn’t study hard enough, I’ll work harder next time.”

    But often when our children fail a test they think “I failed so I must be a bad speller.” or “I must be stupid.”

    You can see how important it can be to encourage children to value their effort, instead of feeling inherently smart (or not smart) regardless of their effort.  This was the basis of a study done by Carol S. Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

    In the experiment Dweck has conducted, two groups of children were asked to put together a relatively easy jigsaw puzzle.  After completing the puzzle, the two groups received different compliments. Every child in the first group was told: “You’re very smart, well-done”. The children in the second group were told something like: “You’ve put a lot of effort and thought into this, well-done”.  And then, they could choose another puzzle that was either harder or easier than the first. In the group that was complimented for smartness, 70% of the children chose the easy puzzle. In the other group, which was complimented for investment, 70% of the children chose the difficult puzzle, which, they were told, was also more interesting.

    Teachers at the Music Junction utilize this important tool when working with our students.  Students are rewarded for effort by logging their practices between lessons and receiving sticker rewards based on how many practices the student achieved that week.  We encourage our piano and voice students to achieve their full potential, instead of general benchmark goals that are the same for everyone, so that the focus is on doing your best.  Private piano lessons are particularly helpful to illustrate how hard work correlates to success.  The more time a student puts into learning a piece of music, the better they sound – and vice versa.

    At the Music Junction recitals, we reiterate to the student how their effort in preparation directly relates to their performance.   If the student is able to play their recital piece perfectly almost every time in the days leading up to the performance, they have a good shot at playing it perfectly at the recital.  If the student is always playing or singing their song with some mistakes in the days leading to their performance, they are about 100% guaranteed to have a mistake at the recital.  Of course, we created a nurturing environment at our bi-annual Music Junction recitals, where making a mistake should not feel like a tragedy.  But emphasizing the student’s control over how well they play in their performance by how prepared they were in advance is an important lesson to the child that when you work hard, you can achieve more.

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    Music Benefits Language Development of Children ages 2-9

    A child’s brain is going through constant stages of development, so parents want to find the best activities to have a positive impact on these developmental years.  The pressure is on, because being able to enhance brain development can have a lifetime impact on the child.

    Research shows that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways.  Having enhanced language skills gives a child the advantage of being able to read and understand speech more easily – which has an enormous impact on their ability to learn.  This means music education is an invaluable benefit to a child’s development – enhancing the brain in a way that will put them ahead for years to come.  This makes music lessons an attractive option for parents who want to expose their children to activities that benefit the mind.

    In 2008, a study done with 32 nonmusician children over 9 months showed the affect of music education on speech and reading abilities.  The students were assigned to music or to painting training for 6 months.  Those who studied music showed enhanced reading and pitch discrimination abilities in speech.  Only 6 months of training significantly influenced the development of those neural processes in the brain.   The abstract of the study records how “These results reveal positive transfer from music to speech and highlight the influence of musical training. Finally, they demonstrate brain plasticity in showing that relatively short periods of training have strong consequences on the functional organization of the children’s brain.”

    According to an article by PBS.org, “Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds.  Additionally, this relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children.  According to Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician, “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”

    So exposing a child to music lessons does more than provide a great activity and build an appreciation for music, it also changes the course of their brain development to provide enhancements that will affect them the rest of their lives.

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    Music Improves Test Scores!

    Improved Test Scores
    According to an article by PBS.org, a study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts.  Johnson compares the concentration that music training requires to the focus needed to perform well on a standardized test.

    Aside from test score results, Johnson’s study highlights the positive effects that a quality music education can have on a young child’s success. Luehrisen explains this psychological phenomenon in two sentences: “Schools that have rigorous programs and high-quality music and arts teachers probably have high-quality teachers in other areas. If you have an environment where there are a lot of people doing creative, smart, great things, joyful things, even people who aren’t doing that have a tendency to go up and do better.”

    And it doesn’t end there: along with better performance results on concentration-based tasks, music training can help with basic memory recall. “Formal training in music is also associated with other cognitive strengths such as verbal recall proficiency,” Pruett says. “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering verbal information stored in memory.”

    read more

    Music lessons are beneficial in and of themselves, but it’s hard to ignore all of the benefits kids receive beyond being more musical, that can help them be more successful at school.  These are great indicators to the importance of music education.

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    Watch Disney Frozen “Let it Go.” One song, 25 different languages!

    When Frozen was dubbed into 41 languages, it meant that 41 singers had to be selected for the popular favorite “Let it Go.”  Hear 25 of the vocalists in 25 different languages.  It is really amazing to listen to one take of the song, with 25 different voices & languages all patched together.  Even though these are 25 vocalists, their voices meld into one.

    According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Let it Go” composer Robert Lopez is grateful that the animated hit’s 41 foreign-language versions are not his problem, but that of Disney Character Voices International senior vp creative Rick Dempsey, responsible for translating Disney’s films. “We were floored when we heard the compilation of ‘Let It Go’ in all those different languages,” says Lopez. “It sounded practically like Idina Menzel singing the whole thing,” says wife and co-composer, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who notes that it’s actually dozens of foreign voices dubbed for each language. “That’s why you want to work with Disney, because no one else has that touch all over the world.”

    Idina Menzel does have a spectacular voice, and finding 41 international singers who could equal her sound is impressive.  One amazing quality of Idina Menzel’s voice is her ability to sing higher range notes in an uber-focused sound placement.  Her high notes sound compressed to a sharp clarity that build effortlessly into the climatic moments of “Let it Go”.

    One great way to get that clarity of sound is through “vocal fry” exercises.  Vocal fry is the sound that is made by the vocal folds vibrating slow enough that instead of creating sound we just hear a “buzzing” noise.   It’s the sound you make when you’re tired and just waking up in the morning, or at the end of a long sigh or yawn – most of us know it as a “sleepy” sound.  But vocal fry is much more than that, it exercises and strengthens the vocal folds to create a focused, clear sound.  Vocal fry also aids in creating a “mix” sound on high notes, so that a singer can sing high with a sound quality that is more similar to their lower notes than, say, an opera singer’s high note sound quality.

    If you want to try to sharpen your sound, combat breathiness, and build killer high notes, try doing a little vocal fry every day.  The standard exercise is to move up and down a 5-note scale, increasing by a half-step after every repetition.  You should be able to hear a tiny bit of sound that is following the note changes, but mostly a full vibrating “fry” sound dominates.  After doing this for 5 minutes, try singing and enjoy how much easier it feels.  For a more advanced exercise, try starting on a vocal fry sound, and then transitioning into a gentle pure sound in the same breath.  The sound should come out very focused sounding, with a little buzz on it, almost the way a mosquito sounds in your ear.  With commitment and time, you could start hearing those Idina Menzel high notes in your own voice!

    read more

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    Elias is Back! Watch this 7yo Piano Prodigy with a lot of Spunk!

    Piano prodigy Elias Phoenix, 7, completely wowed audiences when he made his first debut performance on the Ellen show last month.  Now he returns for another great performance and entertaining personality.  This boy has a lot of spunk!  I am surprised that a child with that much energy could “still” himself long enough to go through the dedicated hours and days and years it takes to build up his piano skills to the high performance level he’s achieved today.

    On a side note, the one thing that struck me as a little odd is Ellen’s present.  She gave him a sound system, which is a perfect gift – good job on that, Ellen! – but the funny thing was the 66-key keyboard that accompanied the set.  These keyboards rarely (or never?) have weighted keys, so it would be very difficult for a classical pianist to use.  It would feel like playing piano sequences on a laptop keyboard.  It’s very unsatisfying to play, but it’s also difficult to have control with the overly light feel.

    We always give parents the ok to purchase an inexpensive 66-key keyboard for their young student when they are first starting – if they are really on a tight budget and don’t want to make a large purchase upfront – but even then it is not ideal.  88-key weighted key keyboards, however, work great for long term study and even for professionals, because the feel and key range is practically identical to an acoustic piano.  Some Kawai-brand keyboards even sell keyboards with wooden keys, just like an acoustic piano key, and use the same hammer action inside the keyboard for a perfect replication.  The only difference is that the piano sounds coming out of a digital keyboard are pre-recorded sounds, where as an acoustic piano is creating it’s own sounds and has a big resonant chamber for the sound waves.  This is much more satisfying for a pianist, but has nothing to do with the actually execution of playing, so any piano can practice and perform on an acoustic or weighted-key keyboard with equal ease.

    One piano with weighted keys that is a great deal right now is the Casio CDP-120.  it has been replaced with a new version, so the old version has dropped in price.  It was once listed at $450, but is now hovering around $300.  It can often be difficult to find a weighted-key keyboard for under $400, so this is a great deal.


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    Voice & Piano Lessons Increase Kids’ IQ!

    As reported by PBS.org

    “A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQs were tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.

    Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.”

    “With music lessons, because there are so many different facets involved–such as memorizing, expressing emotion, learning about musical interval and chords–the multidimensional nature of the experience may be motivating the [IQ] effect,” said study author E. Glenn Schellenberg. – Forbes Magazine

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