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Music supports everything we do
Yes. Here is yet another very cool article about the power of music to make us smarter, happier, and more productive. I love the part about how the muscles of cyclists who listened to a certain type of music used 7% less oxygen than those who didn't.
Every day there's more concrete and groundbreaking research to prove the physical, mental, and psychological benefits of music.
Hello everyone, after a brief hiatus I am back to share with you some thoughts and upcoming events.
Jamming with the heavyweights:
These last few months have been quite the roller coaster. I’ve been on my unofficial “internship”: seeking out and attending as many of NYC’s late night jazz jams as possible. I feel this is long overdue, but as one fellow student of the great Dr. Barry Harris once told me: “You came exactly when you were supposed to come”.
The effects of participating in this timeless New York Jazz tradition have been fundamentally transformative:
Artistically: it not only forces me to apply what I have learned, it informs my practice so I can better prepare mentally for any situation, honing my ability to engage in artistic “Russian roulette” and still come out on top.
Personally: I have found that my initial aversion to “sports mentality” in some of these competitive jams was misguided. In truth, if approached right, it can actually be a liberating opportunity for collaboration and artistic expression (most of the time.) There is also a sense of community: all share a love of the music and all want to get better.
The net result has been an undeniable catapult to the “next level”.
I now practice with a renewed sense of purpose, both on general concepts, and specific applications. I find I can interact with all people in all areas of my life more effectively as a result of the interpersonal skills I’m learning at the jams. I have found renewed inspiration and confidence as an artist and a teacher, and profound gratitude for the gift that New York offers in terms of the level and scope of musicianship and artistry. It is truly a unique place in the entire world, and I feel fortunate to participate in such a vibrant scene.
I recommend this to everyone who plays at any level. Regularly attending jams, open mics, etc. not only will improve your skills, it will give you an unmatched outlet to explore deep personal spiritual and emotional spaces within yourself. I truly believe the more people do it, the better the world is for it.
We are thrilled to announce our first ever Whole Music LLC Recital!June 13th 2015 at 5 pm at the American Legion post at the intersection of routes 117 and 133 in Mount Kisco. I will give a brief opening concert, followed by a great mix of classical and popular selections by my students of all ages, followed by – snacks! ($10 charge per person.) It will be a warm, festive atmosphere celebrating the Whole Music community, and the joy of performance. Please come!
We are also working on early childhood music classes, and a series of talks about music, society, history, and a myriad of topics. Stay tuned!
Keep playing, and hope to see you all very soon,
Ever heard someone tell you they’re “tone deaf”?Well, chances are they’re not, (the neurological disorder known as congenital amusia only occurs in about 4% of the population). What probably happened to them (or didn’t) was they weren’t introduced to music and its related skills early enough.
This doesn’t mean that they’re forever doomed to a world devoid of music however. I’ve had many so-called “tone deaf” students learn to “hear” music very well later in life. The key is the right process, learning what to pay attention to, and thorough and patient persistence. My experience in 20 plus years of teaching is clear: unless there is some neurological disability, anyone can learn.
Undeniably though, early exposure affects how a person interacts with music throughout life. The critical years - birth to 5 - are well known to fundamentally shape us in all dimensions, from personality to academics to sports – and music is no exception.
Music is a language, and that’s how it’s processed in the brain; a child learns intuitively because young brains are wired to learn in ways that are much harder for adults because of structural changes as the brain matures. So, starting early is the best way to ensure your child will best absorb music and the cognitive advantages it offers.
I’ve seen these effects first hand. Students who were in my early childhood music classes at 3 were able to learn quicker and retain more at 13. Exposure to basics like rhythm and its connection to movement, counting, pitch matching, fine motor skills, etc., all established a firm ground upon which to build more complex coordination down the road.
And it doesn’t stop there: For example, conductor Daniel Barenboim has created schools that emphasize general education THROUGH music as a medium for all subjects. For example, The Barenboim-Said school in Israel and the Palestinian territories plants seeds of shared experience that promise not only to change those young minds, but potentially the entire region by establishing a collaborative environment among members of a new generation. What a way to bring the healing power of music not only to individuals but also to an entire population.
I wonder if we can follow this model here. Imagine if every child was exposed to musical literacy and performance in a diverse environment from the very beginning! What sort of positive impact might that have on our society as a whole? Towards this lofty goal, I’m thrilled to announce that Whole Music LLC is offering early childhood music beginning this spring. I can’t think of a forum that better expresses “Music for the Whole Person”. And I sincerely hope to see you all there!
Music and School
Music supports ALL school subjects
First semester is almost over, and you know what that means: tests, assessments, final projects, etc. I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that if you do music, you are more likely to do better than those who don’t. Music supports every subject imaginable.
Musical elements relate to each other in systems the same way numbers do. Scales, chords, and songs all follow universal rules that can be broken, stretched, and manipulated creatively. As such, one could look at algebra or calculus as “The Music of How Much”. Making creative sense of how number systems interact is a natural expression of musical logic.
Also, music notation is really just a graph expressing complex relations of pitch and time. Learning to think this way sets the mind up for fluid mathematical reasoning.
At any age learning songs expands your vocabulary. Also, when paired with musical sound, emotional meaning is attributed to the word in the most compelling way possible. Just look at the works of Oscar Hammerstein, or ask any music therapist who works with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
To read music, the eye has to jump back and forth, up and down much more than verbal language. This trains the eye muscles, and the brain to scan and find crucial information. Test prep companies teach precisely these skills – expensively, but with music you also get the ability to play for your efforts! Win, Win!
Music is a deeply personal expression of the mindset of different eras. What better way to melt away the centuries and experience the logic of the Enlightenment, or the raw emotion of the Romantic era, and identify with people from the times when the great classics were written!
Studying world culture will be incomplete without looking at music. It is the one common language that ties all of humanity together. Geography, philosophy, politics, religion and art all intersect with music.
Playing an instrument alone, or in a group involves timing, coordination, and the ability to bring together complex varied skills into a unified whole. Sound familiar tennis players? Soccer players? Footballers? Wrestlers? Track people?
Music is the best way to train yourself to calm your nerves at the moment of truth. Recital requires your “game face” and it requires you develop effective training routines. Music coordinates the thinking mind and the muscles in a much more involved way than anything else: To paraphrase Yogi Berra: it’s more than “half mental”.
Playing music with others develops teamwork, leadership, cultural sensitivity, and conflict resolution skills.
So next time a school board candidate or politician tries to convince you that cost cutting in favor of common core standards devoid of arts and assessment based education is a good idea, think of the above. Nevertheless, nobody can stop you from doing music on your own. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself – at any level.
Improvisation is Good for You
What happens in the brain when we improvise?
What’s the first thing you did when you first got close to a piano? You probably did what every little kid does; plunk around the keyboard and marvel at the sounds coming from it: let’s try this side – oh now the notes are higher! Now this side – big low notes: Hmm… let’s mix it up a little: what do the black ones do..
While the effect of this ‘musical product’ on the brain of the listening adult may be a splitting headache prompting an attempt to distract the child to a quieter activity, what’s happening in the brain of the ‘performer’, it turns out, is quite amazing.
Fast forward a few years, and now the child can actually play. What’s happening in the developed musical mind? An interesting new study by Dr. Charles Limb, associate professor of Head and Neck Surgery at John’s Hopkins University - a musician himself who holds a faculty position at the Peabody Conservatory, shows in detail the changes that occur in the brain while improvising.
Using a specially designed keyboard, Limb and his associates looked at the brains of accomplished jazz pianists as they “traded fours” (exchanged improvised musical phrases) while in an fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine and showed how this activity activates language areas of the brain. One of the implications of this research is that the musical brain processes syntax and meaning in ways that are different from that of ordinary speech.
It also shows that the musicians “turned off” the self-censoring areas of the brain - a process that bore a resemblance to dreaming, where the brain’s self-monitoring turns off and its creative side runs freely in an unconscious state.
The implications for the rest of us are compelling: Improvising at any level of proficiency can help stimulate creative “out of the box” thinking, problem solving, alleviate writer’s block, and much more.
Limb also notes how by cutting arts from school we are undermining kids’ ability to learn these skills: “We tend to look at education of creative aspects of children as something that happens incidentally and that is entertainment-based, . . . Art may be one of the best ways to train the brain to have this kind of creative fluency,” Limb said.
Next, Limb plans to study the brains of children with no previous arts exposure (like our first-timer above) to learn how improvisation can support learning and creative growth.
What’s the upshot then? Simple. Do play around. Don’t judge what comes out. Let your mind flow freely: It turns out that this unstructured activity can be as valuable as traditional practice to support your goals, musically and beyond. For kids, allow them to experiment freely (as difficult as the results may be to listen to…) it’s not only allowing them a sense of personal ownership of their music and motivating them to play more, it’s actually helping them become better thinkers and problem solvers!
For more great articles on the power of improvisation check out our website, and for more about the neuroscience of improvisation and Dr. Limb’s work check out:
Getting a lot done (A little at a time)
So much stuff! Where to start?
In earlier posts we discussed the “Forrest Gump” effect: Silencing the inner voice of judgment and simply ‘doing’. Here we’ll get in to a few specifics to help turn a self-defeating cycle of doubt into an invigorating cycle of positive feedback, and results!
So, here I am in the practice room: I have to learn everything in every key at every tempo. Simple right? No problem. Except that everything is so much stuff!
Here is exactly where we should catch ourselves. Musical practice is like exercise: it’s something that we decide is an ongoing part of us. Like meditation, yoga, running, golf, or anything that is part of a general wellness routine. Within this framework it’s easier to take the long view, and realize that every little goal is simply a step in a lifelong journey.
The Mastery Method
Put simply: it boils down to A, then B, then A and B. Then C. then A, B, and C. Then D, Then C and D, Then B, C and D, then A, B, C, and D… etc. Reinforcing material learned while gradually adding small increments of new material, both in and out of context.
This takes tremendous patience, but it really pays off. Musical performance relies heavily on muscle memory, which lives in a different and more ancient part of our brains then the part that understands and thinks about things. For this reason, it’s important to repeat things mindfully and copiously.
Bridging these two brain regions can feel like a T3 Connection trying to interface with a dialup line. (Think: slow!) But the good news is that it’s really hard to “unlearn what you have learned” (As Yoda would say). What you learn more or less stays forever. Like riding a bike.
t’s also the ‘bad’ news if we learn it wrong, so better get it right the first time. There’s no rush because as above, we’re in it for the long haul, right? It’s not a race. Removing the urgency allows us the space to be thorough and mindful.
While we’re immersed in deep focus solving a particular problem, it’s easy to lose track of very important things like: breathing, relaxing, smiling, and generally enjoying yourself. The beauty of the mastery method is that during repetitions, you can gradually look past the mechanics of the task at hand and move your consciousness to a more “universal” view. Am I relaxed? Is there tension in my wrist? Face? Back? Am I holding my breath? Am I having fun or torturing myself? These are all questions that we should be asking ourselves in action
Watch for future posts exploring more strategies to bolster performance and practice. In the meantime, check these articles out:
On getting your kids to practice:
More on effective practice methods:
Some practicing funnies:
Great book on mindful meditative practicing:
For more great stuff, visit our website where you can find links to articles, useful resources, sheet music, videos, and much more.
Music = Therapy
How science is finally proving what we already knew.
“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I've read, that things inanimate have mov'd,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform'd,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.”
William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697.
This oft misquoted verse (it’s “breast”, not “beast”) speaks to the timelessness of music’s power to change us. While known since at least the time of the writings of Aristotle, the transformative property of music is increasingly used in exciting new ways to aid our understanding of how the brain works, healing a multitude of medical disorders, promoting productivity and peacefulness for the general population, and much more.
Music therapy is a relatively new field, the first such program being established at Michigan State University in 1944. Seems like a ‘no brainer’, right? (You’ll pardon the expression…) But only now with new technologies like the PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography), which allows us to view the living working brain; science can actually quantify the therapeutic value of music.
Many styles of music therapy have emerged since it became an established therapeutic discipline, including Nordoff-Robbins’ Creative Music Therapy, Neurologic Music Therapy, Guided Imagery in Music, and much more; treating everything from stroke rehabilitation, Parkinson’s, dementia, autism spectrum disorders, depression, anxiety, ADD, and schizophrenia.
Most interesting for me however, is the framework of Music-Centered Music Therapy, which is based on the intrinsic healing power of music. Clinical goals are achieved as a consequence of patients being immersed in a state of musical flow: An autistic child puts emotional meaning to a word by the addition of tonality to that word, or a stroke victim can vocalize words despite related neurological losses.
I found the music-centered approach so compelling because it means that you don’t have to be a patient or a therapist to get the goods. Music itself is the therapy. The mere act of strumming a few chords on the guitar, or singing has very concrete and demonstrable physical benefits, and far-reaching applications
For example, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate has begun a study of music’s effects on first responders including federal agents, firefighters, and police, as part of its Readiness Optimization Program (ROP). This study uses music composed using the actual brainwaves of subjects during relaxation, and readiness states, then playing this music back to them as part of a general wellness program, resulting in better job performance. The results in improved sleep and relaxation, as well as alertness on the job have been clinically demonstrated.
More and more, science confirms what we already knew: Music is essential to our well-being, and is a need as vital to us as exercise, nutrition, and the pursuit of knowledge. It gives hope that music will take its proper place in our institutions, which all too often have sidelined it as a superfluous elective.
As promised, here it is! My much-anticipated selfie in front of the Coliseum
"When in Rome..."
Spend all day in a windowless basement and LOVE it!
(My Barry Harris Rome workshop experience)
It is interesting to note the appreciation Europeans have for our American art form. The opportunity to learn directly from a living Jazz legend is regarded with deep recognition of just how rare an opportunity it is. Jazz is an improvisational art form passed on by direct experience. To do it right, you have to get it from the source. Barry Harris is one of the last standing, and they know it.
Barry conducts improvisation class attended by Europe's best and brightest
At 84 Barry is the elder statesman of Bebop, the 1940’s archetype for modern Jazz. Barry has recorded with Jazz greats Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Stitt, Yusef Lateef, Cannonball Adderley, and many others. He has developed his unique approach to improvisation theory and has taught and influenced a whole generation of modern Jazz performers, including Joe Henderson, Paul Chambers, and even the great John Coltrane who made the pilgrimage to Barry’s native Detroit for a few lessons. A unique element of his teaching is his sincere personal desire to pass on the knowledge and spiritual message of Jazz – what I call “the truth behind the notes”. His NYC workshop is available to anyone and everyone with a spare $15 and a free Tuesday night. You don’t need to be an advanced player (though it can’t hurt); you just need a love and desire to learn this style of music
A talented 14-year-old pianist hangs on every word
Periodically, Barry takes his workshop around the world, where he conducts an intensive 5-day event, culminating in a concert. I had the privilege to attend his latest event in Rome’s funky San Lorenzo district, think: Rome’s “Greenwich Village”.
San Lorenzo's mix of charm and grit
Despite the fact that I have religiously attended Barry’s NYC workshop for nearly two years, and become somewhat versed in his approach, I was completely floored by the Rome Workshop’s intensity. Experiencing such energy from top talent from all over the world gathered together to celebrate their shared love of Jazz, will change you.
It is remarkable to see a man of Barry’s years absorb all this energy and achieve such a perfect flow state (see our September 18, 2014 post). He was able to teach from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for five days straight - utterly captivating people ranging from 14 year old conservatory students to accomplished professionals - then give a 3-hour concert with undiminished youthful energy, even closing with “All God’s Children Got Rhythm” at an impossibly fast tempo followed by a sing along to his beautiful composition “Nascimento”. It is a compelling testament to the power of music, which when done right is truly a fountain of youth.
The sense of community and shared experience was palpable
Much more to come in future posts, including more about Barry’s class, his approach, and how it has revolutionized my own practice, performance, and most importantly my teaching; and how I pass that knowledge directly to my students to make their practice more relevant, useful, and engaging.
For more great resources, visit our website where you can find links to articles, useful resources, sheet music, videos, and much more.
How To Keep Music In Your Life:
How to cope with feeling overwhelmed and have fun getting better.
Part 1: The “Forrest Gump” effect:
Music is huge. To quote the great Jazz master and guru, Dr. Barry Harris: “Nobody played it all.” Music is as big and as deep as math, you just can’t do everything, but you can have a heck of a time trying to!
How do you integrate such a major undertaking as mastering music to an already busy life? This is the million-dollar question for a music teacher (actually, let’s call it the thousand-dollar question cause it’s music, not real estate). In my own lessons this was the one question my teacher couldn’t answer. She was a loving and supportive teacher, but very old school: “You just need to practice” and that was it. No consideration for my busy life as a pre teen, hanging out with my friends, playing “Space Invaders” on my Atari (and I don’t mean the nouveau-retro version either), daydreaming, and procrastinating on major school assignments.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t play. I was at the piano all the time, because music was my personal retreat. It was my very own place to let my imagination go; figuring out pop tunes, jamming out endlessly on two chord riffs, playing through already learned pieces I liked, etc. But here’s the key: If done right, playing IS practicing!
Experimentation and fun need to be integrated at every level, and just like “Space Invaders,” the more you play, the faster the little critters move across the screen, it gets harder, and . . . you like that – because you are playing, and the better you get the more fun you have!
So how then do we instill this passion into a child who needs to master their major scales when the sun is shining so nicely outside, or to ourselves for that matter?
The first thing is to silence that voice of negativity in our heads. We all know that voice, the one that says: “This is so overwhelming, I’ll never get it,” or “I can never be as good as so and so,” or “I have so much schoolwork (or work-work)”. Thoughts like these are never productive when trying to meet any challenge, and music is no exception. But with a little consistency and an open mind any challenge can be met.
As a matter of fact, you can get real results in a focused ten-minute practice session which can provide an invaluable retreat from your workload, which will in turn help achieve better results overall. The key is to achieve flow, and remove judgment. I call it the “Forrest Gump effect”: being able to achieve so much just by doing, without thinking about it too much.
Much more on this topic to come, as well as specifics on how to hone your practice technique to get the most out of it. Meanwhile, check out:
More great articles on our website:
And of course:
By Isaac Raz, MAT, Founder and President Whole Music LLC. Pianist, Vocalist, Composer, and Teaching Artist. For more information about our unique approach and links to videos, resources, and great articles on the benefits of musical practice visit www.wholemusicllc.comand please don’t forget to Like us on Facebook