Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Advantages of starting music early. The timing of talent.

Advantages of starting music early. The timing of talent.

Is it time your eight-month old child began music lessons? You will probably think about it, and may even take a poll to help you decide.   Your neighbor says "Of course." Your cousin's widowed aunt says, "Not until the child is old enough to sit still for practice and can understand the discipline of it."
Instead, you might want to research what the experts say.  There is a tremendous amount of research, past and present, done to help parents determine when a child can actually benefit from starting music early.

I am not an expert; however, I do have a story. My cousin and I are the same age. We both have music in our respective family backgrounds.  Therefore, it follows that we both were on the same musical track when we reached adulthood. Right?  Not so fast.
My cousin was helped onto the piano bench at age three.  She held early recitals to the cheers of her family. In elementary school, she gave more recitals and garnered more kudos. By high school, she played several musical instruments. Her college degree was, of course, in music and voice, and her career is all about music.

Me? I did not begin piano lessons until age 12. I practiced an hour a day (as my mother stood over my shoulder to “make sure”) for over two years.  Not much luck, but I gained basic knowledge.  I did not even think of taking music in high school, and my family did not mention it.  I loved music, but couldn't play at the level I demanded of myself. So, I gave up. I was connected only by the love of music which I continued to play (however tentatively), and by singing at church.

In college, I took two years of piano and voice. I loved it, but still found it difficult to deliver the extra touches that the professor directed. I persisted, and was able, finally, to gain a bit of advantage over beginners.  The recital was my final test, and my professor told me it was good. 
So, what was the difference? It was not because I lacked ability. Perhaps the answer is found in the following discussions.

"If we teach our children early enough, it will affect the organization, or 'wiring,' of their brains." states Michael Phelps, UCLA biophysicist.  His studies, and that of other scientists, indicate that during a child's earliest years, there are millions of neuron connections at work in the child's brain.  As the child grows, the brain determines which of the connections are most used/important.  Ones not used are lost. Thus the phrase, "Use it or Lose it."

"The thing that determines which connections are saved is education in the broadest sense of the term," continues Phelps, co-inventor of the PET scan.Musical training is just one example of early learning.  "By encouraging young children to learn music and practice, you're really doing them a big favor." The researcher Chugani said. "Once a child has learned an instrument, he or she can stop playing, then pick up the instrument 20 years later and do much better than an adult just starting out."
Another example is foreign-language instruction, which is often deferred until high school, despite the fact that youngsters can learn to speak like natives -- that is, to think in the language without having to translate -- whereas teenagers or adults usually cannot. When small children learn a new language,” he continued, "the ability to use that language is wired in the brain."

"Children need a flood of information, a banquet, a feast," stated Martha Pierson, Baylor College of Medicine.

UCLA's Scheibel cautions, however, that pushing youngsters too hard can be counterproductive. "When the level of exposure becomes excessive," he said, "stress hormones are released that actually destroy nerve cells." A balance must be struck between too little exposure and too much. Clearly, we shouldn't force kids to learn too much too soon.

"But why wait until age 5," said Yale biologist Martha Constantine-Paton, "When the evidence clearly shows that brain development begins much earlier."In-depth studies have definitively shown that activities change brain structure.  It is, therefore, meaningful that studies also show the drastic changes which music imparts in the brains of children and, in adults, only to a lesser degree.
Developing one's music ability makes extraordinary demands on the brain. Researchers studying musicians who play stringed instruments released extensive data indicating that the more these musicians practice, the larger the brain maps for their active left hands become, and the neurons and maps that respond to string timbres increase. In trumpeters the neurons and maps that respond to "brassy" sounds enlarge.   Musicians have several areas of their brains - motor cortex and cerebellum that differ from those of non-musicians. (The Brain That Plays Music and is Changed by it.   In R. Zatorre and I. Peretz, eds., The biological foundations of music.  New York: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 315-29, esp 316.)

Imaging also shows that musicians who begin playing before the age of seven have larger brain areas connecting the two hemispheres. (T.F. Munte,  E. ALtenmuller, and L.  Jancke, 2002.)
Nobel Laureate S. Ramon y Cajal wrote, "The work of a pianist... is inaccessible for the untrained human, as the acquisition of new abilities requires many years of mental and physical practice.  In addition the strengthening of pre-established organized pathways, and the establishment of new ones, through ramification and progressive growth of dendritic arborizations and nervous terminals. . .takes place in response to exercise, and may be reversed in brain spheres that are not [exercised.] (S. Ramon y Cajal. 1904. Textura del sistema nervioso del hombre y del los sertebrados. p.395.)
It is my  belief, based on experience, that age three is a great time to begin that trek toward musical success, whether it is singing/playing piano for large groups, or at home with family  nearby, or, alone with just the cat to  listen.

Why not trust your own instincts, and let out the musical genius that may be hidden within your child? You won't regret giving it a try.  You will regret it later, as you see the ability and wonder what might have been.

#musictraining #earlymusiclessons #thebrainandmusic