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Tom Jacob, March 7, 2019 

A new study finds that incorporating music and drawing during lessons can help kids retain what they've learned.    

Do you remember what you learned in fifth-grade science class? Me neither. Many kids at that age learn the basics of chemistry, biology, and the like, but often the information just doesn't stick. And that ignorance can mean failure in more advanced classes down the line.

New research points to a technique that can help such students retain the information they've been taught, and perhaps even teach creative problem-solving skills to some of the brighter kids. It finds that science lessons stick better in kids' memories when arts are integrated into the curriculum.

"Our study provides more evidence that the arts are absolutely needed in schools," lead author Mariale Hardiman of John Hopkins University said in announcing the results. "I hope the findings can assuage concerns that arts-based lessons won't be as effective in teaching essential skills."

While scholars have suggested for many years that studying music and the arts benefits overall school performance, such research has become more rigorous of late. A large study released last month found that Florida middle-school students who study music, theater, or visual art subsequently get higher overall grades than their peers.

This new study, in the journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education, focuses on 350 students in 16 fifth-grade classrooms in the Baltimore, Maryland, school system. The researchers worked with educators to create two versions of four 15-day-long study units: one that integrated some form of the arts, and another that did not. The topics were astronomy, life science, chemistry, and environmental science.

In the standard version of the class, "students displayed knowledge by completing a chart or presenting the information orally," the researchers explain. "In the arts-integrated condition, they displayed knowledge through a variety of arts-based activities such as dance, tableaux, singing, or drawing."

For instance, to mentally reinforce a piece of information they had learned, students in the first class would recite it out loud. Those in the arts group "sang a song or chanted a rap" using that same material. Similarly, one group of students would create a simple chart listing living and non-living things, while the other would create a collage conveying the identical information.

Half of the students studied their first topic (say, astronomy) using the arts-infused curriculum, and then learned the second using standard techniques. The opposite was true of the other half of the students. All were tested on their knowledge of each subject just before and just after taking the class, and again 10 weeks later.

Overall, the researchers found no significant differences in the amount of content the kids retained, regardless of which version of the lessons they received. But the arts-infused approach had a positive effect on "struggling readers." Ten weeks later, those kids "remembered significantly more science content learned through the arts" than those who were taught using conventional methods.

In addition, "students who took arts-integrated science in the first session remembered more science in the second [more conventional] session," the researchers add. "This leads us to wonder whether there may be transfer effects, in which students may be applying creative problem-solving skills to better understand and remember big ideas."

Given that potential advantage—and the clear benefit for lower-achieving students—"we would encourage educators to adopt integrating the arts into content instruction," Hardiman and her colleagues conclude. "Arts integration can provide another vehicle to support learning for all students, especially for the most vulnerable learners in our nation's schools."

Learning the periodic table is easier if you periodically create a tableaux.

The Art of Habit 
AKA Are You Throwing Your Money Away on Music Lessons?
By Kim Addison

“Good habits, once established, are just as hard to break as bad habits."  – Robert Puller

In the 24 years of operating our        school, Addison Music Learning Centre in Oakville, we have heard this same complaint many times.  "My daughter/son just isn't practicing, we are throwing away our money, and therefore quitting lessons" 

There are many instances of children beginning lessons, all gung ho, ready to go, promising to practice, then the interest and flame of attraction to the instrument fizzles out and over time turns into just a glowing ember.  The question is... do you add some oxygen to that ember?  Or do you just let it fizzle out?

And...Are you really throwing away your money? Or, by quitting lessons, are you actually throwing away an amazing opportunity to learn how to set up the life skills for a successful and effective life?

No one will deny that practicing feels like a chore sometimes.  But wouldn't we all admit that anything worth doing is hard work?  Life is hard.  Getting anywhere in life requires perseverance, goal setting, time management, faith in yourself, and willpower.  Not to mention, when the going gets tough, do the tough get going?  Or do they quit?  

I was always taught from a very young age that quitting is absolutely out of the question.  Which is why I persevered throughout my life to achieve everything I've always wanted.  

If someone is trained from a young age to quit when the going gets tough, that's simply a recipe for unrealised potential throughout their entire life.  And that is a terribly disappointing thought isn't it? 

We offer something called a 4 week trial at our school.  This is mainly designed to make sure the student is 1) comfortable with the teacher and 2) likes the instrument.  One source of frustration for me, the teachers, and our administrative staff is a parent who says after a 4 week trial, "No we won't be continuing... although "Johnny" loves his lessons, he is just not practicing at home."

What makes this frustrating for us is this;  A child doesn't just naturally have the capability of healthy practice habits, time management skills, and goal setting.   A child needs to be trained in these skills.  Training takes time, patience, and perseverance.  It never happens overnight - or in 4 weeks.  

How do we achieve in developing better practice habits?  ...Training and habit forming is key.  

Music lessons are the perfect vehicle to begin to train your child to develop and learn these healthy lifestyle habits.  Your music teacher is not just teaching your child music.  Your music teacher is teaching your child how to practice, persevere, and win in life!   Your music teacher is actually teaching life skills!

But young people who are being trained to develop these habits need help and guidance at home too.  Your music teacher is only with your child once per week.  Your music teacher will set the standards, and mom and dad need to help to lay the ground work to develop the habit at home. 

Take a look at your friends, family, or associates that surround you in your life, and pick out the most successful and effective people you can think of.  What do they have in common?   The successful and highly effective people who surround me are dedicated, have great self management skills, have well planned out days/weeks/lives and goals, and basically they have healthy lifestyle habits. 

Also consider an amazing athlete.  What is it that makes him or her that great?  Again...  perseverance, good practice habits, good eating habits, good work out habits.  

Habits, perseverance, and dedication.  They are not something that we just possess... They are learned skills.  Just like learning anything, learning these skills takes time.

One of our most effective students at the school is actually a competitive skater.  

If you know anything about competitive skating, it requires a lot of time, hours and hours of practice, perseverance, self management skills, and gallons of willpower.  Her skating coaches are teaching her these skills.  She came to us when she was well on her way to adopting healthy practice habits into her life.  This student has naturally carried over these self management skills into her music lessons, therefore, making her a model student.  She sets aside time for practice almost every day of the week, comes to her lessons thoroughly prepared and ready to move forward.  Her teacher is proud of her and she is proud of herself.  The relationship to her teacher and her lessons is a truly positive and life rewarding experience.  

The outcome of her habitual practice/lifestyle is that flame we were talking about earlier, the yearning to learn MORE music, it never fizzles for her.  The reason is she is moving forward and loving what she does is, she reaches her goals through perseverance.  When she continually reaches her goals, a chemical is released in her brain called dopamine.  This is a feel good chemical that leads to good self esteem and continued perseverance.  

For this student (and many others we know) doing the work and achieving more knowledge and becoming a better player becomes an endless circle of self gratification.  

How do we turn on the brain so it is consistently releasing dopamine?  

1)  Use dopamine to your advantage!  Set up small goals for the student first.  Watch what happens to the students mood when they've reached them!   If it's done properly, reaching goals will become a mood enhancing stimulant, and the student will thrive for more and more!  

Achieving these goals will also give him or her FAITH IN THEIR ABILITY TO SUCCEED!  

We have just implemented a Goal Achievement Program at Addison Music Learning Centre and you can choose to be a part of it or not.  If you are not taking part in this goal setting program, and the student is having problems with consistency of practicing, and / or achieving milestones in lessons, please ask  your teacher to set the student up in our goal program.  

2)  Set up a practice schedule ahead of the week according to the students lifestyle, and be consistent.  Set aside a specific time on a daily basis to practice.  Do not waiver from that schedule even if it gets in the way of other things.   Turn this into a habit by repeating it over and over again.  Ask your teacher to explain exactly what to do in practice sessions if confused.  Ask your teacher to write it in the dictation book.  

3)  Turn the goal into a habit.  Taken from "Psychology Today, written by Ralph Ryback, M.D.,  from his blog 'The Truisms of Wellness':   

A recent study published in the journal Neuron found that habits and goals are stored differently in the human brain. Specifically, a region known as the orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for converting wishful goals into solid, automatic habits via the neural messengers known as endocannabinoids, which are also responsible for modulating appetitememory, mood and (as the name implies) the psychoactive effects of cannabis

The best way to get your endocannabinoids to help you form a habit is by being consistent. Work toward your goal every day, even if you don’t feel like it. You can set aside a specific time each day, or a specific context. For instance, you can use mouthwash every day at exactly 9 p.m. (a specific time), or you could use mouthwash immediately after brushing your teeth (a specific context). The more regular the behavior, the more easily your brain can convert it into a habit. 

Developing these healthy lifestyle habits will set you or your child up for a lifetime of effectiveness and success in achieving life goals.  

As Stephen King once said, "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration - the rest of us just get up and go to work"

Kim Addison is the owner of Addison Music Learning Centre and has been running the successful and popular school since May of 1995.  

How to Feel Confident Performing Music; Achieving a music performance mindset

Back in high school, I was really confident performing music on stage, whether it was in school or in the community.   My attitude was, “I own this stage; no one can take it away from me.”

But then, I hit a real low point in my life and my playing, and I experienced fears that I never could have imagined before.

Almost overnight I was afraid to play in public. I was even terrified to play at rehearsals, and to even practice in my own room because people could hear me! 

For years, I would suffer from this debilitating performance anxiety. I lost my edge and my drive and my confidence. It was humiliating.

Lots of research and study, and facing my fears helped me to get past this horrible time in my life, and a few years later I was back performing on stage again. This time in front of hundreds and even thousands of audience members.

What led to this extreme performance anxiety? How did I eventually get over it?

Feeling Confident Performing Music; Your Music Performance Mindset

You’re probably looking at this title, and wondering, what does mindset have to do with my own music playing? You may be thinking, “I just want to figure out how to play the theme from Star Wars.”

Or maybe you are playing in a community group or church, and are thinking, “I only need to think about playing the notes and rhythms on the page so I don’t sound bad in front of everyone else.”

Or, you’re playing a classical piece of music in preparation for an upcoming concert, and approaching a trouble spot – a spot where there are many 16th notes in a row, and you have to coordinate your fingers, air and tongue in order to be able to play it. You may be thinking, “Oh no, this spot again. I’ll never get this at tempo in time for the concert even though I keep practicing it over and over.”

In all these situations, your mindset plays a huge part in helping you prepare to perform the music you are working on. In fact, it plays a larger role than you could possibly imagine.

What does it mean to have a music performance mindset? Is it only for professional musicians, or can hobbyists and amateurs benefit?

To achieve a performance mindset, you have to be willing to approach your practicing and performance with focus and determination.

Some of the most successful athletes and musicians in the world know how to get their mind “in the zone” when performing in public. They have practiced their performance mindset in the practice room or on the field for many years so that when performance time came, they were ready.

They practice certain mental techniques and exercises, such as meditation and visualization just as much as practicing their craft. In fact, there have been many studies that have shown improved results from adding these techniques to one’s practice regimen.

But you don’t have to be a professional musician or athlete to use the techniques. In fact, meditation and visualization can help everyone achieve their goals. 

There are literally hundreds of apps and tools, both free and paid, to help you meditate and achieve the focus you need.

Another way to achieve a performance mindset and build your confidence is to be prepared. Preparation comes from carefully-though-out goals and practice sessions to achieve those goals.

A third way to build your confidence with your performance is to take the focus off of you. Who are you really performing for?

When you are on a stage, whether it’s as a soloist, part of a jazz quartet, concert band, orchestra, choir, etc., you are performing for the audience!

The audience is there to be entertained, and it’s your job to do that. Have fun with it – isn’t performing music supposed to be fun?

How to Conquer Imposter Syndrome

Sometimes, your thoughts can prevent you from doing things that you know you can do.  Imposter Syndrome, or thinking that there’s always someone better than you so who are you to offer what you have to the public, can hold you back from not only expressing yourself, but also from ever getting better.

How many times have you said to yourself, “Why should I even try to audition for this performing group? I haven’t practiced as long as everyone else and they are so much better than me. I’ll just wait until I feel I am better.” Months and years go by and you are still waiting…

One key way to fight Imposter Syndrome is to be super-prepared with your music. 

Another idea is to “feel the fear and do it anyway” (which is the title of a terrific book by Gavin DeBecker). Once you have prepared as best as you can, go for it!

Perform often in public – you have to practice doing that too.

You see, practicing an instrument goes beyond playing the right notes and rhythms. It goes way beyond playing the right changes at the right time. It also includes the mental aspects of building up your focus, your drive and determination and following through on your goals.

In fact, the following quote, I think, sums it all up:

"Music is 90% mental, 9% air and 1% lip….Vince Penzarella, former 2nd Trumpet, NY Philharmonic"

Work on the mental aspect, the mindset, be super-prepared and organized, and the confidence will come.

Donna Schwartz is an educator, multi instrumentalist, performer and arranger in California.   For more info about her and more great articles and blogs see 

Many people intuitively believe that praise leads to high self-esteem and a feeling of specialness, which in turn results in greater prospects for success and happiness. Do the facts support this? Surprisingly, links between high self-esteem and academic performance are questionable at best and seem to lower academic achievement at worst. How can this be?

In Self-Compassion, professor Kristin Neff says that “self-esteem is a side-effect of success, the consequence of healthy behaviours rather than the cause. Success leads to self-esteem, not the other way around, and artificially boosting it doesn’t work.” This has support from Carol Dweck: “It’s a mistake to believe that you can simply hand children self-esteem by telling them how smart and talented they are. We cannot boost children’s self-esteem by protecting them from failure.”

Artificial attempts to boost self-esteem can result in self-absorption, an overreliance on praise and reward, grade inflation, and a need to see ourselves as better than others. High self-esteem does not reduce anxiety. It tends to be comparative, excluding 50% of people from being above average. Parents like to think of their children as being special, and tell them so regularly. Unique is one thing, but children interpret ‘special’ as being better than others.

Most schools habitually use praise as an attempt to improve self-esteem assuming it to be a good thing. Dweck refers to one study where the students doing the least amount of homework and receiving the lowest grades were receiving by far the most praise. This conveys “you’re clearly not very smart so congratulations on reaching this mediocre level”. Excess praise can cause low-effort/low achievers to believe that they are as competent as the higher achievers, resulting in an impression of little need to improve their performance. Praising students regardless of their performance encourages a belief that effort doesn’t matter.

This view of praise and self-esteem can be difficult to digest. It takes courage to consider new ideas and to reconsider assumptions. Well-intentioned though it might be, unearned and over-praise from adults does not produce the desired long-term outcomes.

  The problem with some school-based methods to boost self-esteem is they don’t distinguish between healthy and unhealthy self-esteem. Teachers use indiscriminate praise, focussing on the child’s level of self-esteem, not on why or how it gets there. Thus, many children come to believe they deserve compliments no matter what they do. - Kirstin Neff

 In fact, the reverse seems to be true. In a Wall Street Journal article Kay Hymowitz concludes:

And what do 15,000 studies show? High self-esteem doesn’t improve grades, reduce ­anti-social behaviour, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything good for kids. In fact, telling kids how smart they are can be counterproductive. Many children who are convinced that they are little geniuses tend not to put much effort into their work. Others are troubled by the anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.

Iain McGilchrist continues “high self-esteem is positively correlated with a tendency to be unrealistic, to take offence too easily, and to become violent and demanding if one’s needs are not met”. High self-esteem and healthy self-esteem are not the same thing. One study found that school athletes who received the most praise from their coaches in time became least confident in their athletic skills. This may seem counter-intuitive, the reasons explaining it are logical. Students can tell when a teacher doesn’t believe in their potential. Praise is often the first sign. Superfluous praise can be interpreted by a student as indicative of low expectation; that little more is expected of them. Similarly, students interpret teacher sympathy or pity in response to failure, as indicative of lack of ability.

The alternative is for teachers to encourage persistence and examination of learning strategies: “How did you prepare for this? What could you do differently next time? Let’s learn from this so we can improve.” Praise can lull students into accepting lower standards, and mislead students into thinking they are doing better than they are. Over-the-top compliments can be received as patronising and an insult to one’s capability. Critical feedback, though, sends the message that one is capable of better performance. Whilst the link between self-esteem and achievement is weak, the link between autonomous competence, or self-efficacy, is powerful.

The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working. - Einstein

Michael Griffin provides school staff professional development and keynote presentations in Australasia, Asia, Europe, UK and the Middle East. Topics include intrinsically motivated learning and teaching, metacognition, mindset, skill-development, and expert achievement.

Griffin is the author of Children and Learning and Learning Strategies for Musical Success. Both available through the author, or Amazon.

Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?  Really?  This video demonstates what scientists have claimed all along.  Learning a skill early in life is paramount due to the neuro-elasticity of the brain at a younger age.  This is a fun video that shows us that when the brain is wired for something, it is very much more challenging to "unwire" it and learn new tricks...  

 The Backwards Brain Bicycle!

What happens to your brain under the influence of music

From the perspective of neuroscience, listening to music is one of the most complex things you can do. Many parts of your brain have to work together to comprehend even the simplest tune. So what is music really doing to our minds?  

The Mechanics of Music

There isn't a single music center of the brain, in large part because listening to even very simple music combines a bunch of distinct neurological processes. Let's first look at the more strictly mechanical aspects of listening to music. As you might be able to guess from its name, the auditory cortex is an important part of processing the sound of music. Part of the temporal lobe, the auditory cortex takes in information from the ear and assesses the pitch and volume of the sound.

Other parts of the brain deal with different aspects of music. Rhythm, for instance, is only connected in a relatively minor way to the auditory cortex. A lot goes into keeping even relatively simple, regular beats - tapping along to something as basic as a 1:2 rhythm brings in the left frontal cortex, left parietal cortex, and right cerebellum, and more unusual rhythms bring in still more areas of the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. 

Tonality - the building of musical structure around a central chord - is another crucial part of musical understanding, and it reels in still more parts of the brain. The prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, and many parts of the temporal lobe all go into our ability to recognize the tone of a given piece of music. Taken all together, this means that music already brings in three out of four of the lobes of the human brain - frontal, parietal, and temporal, with only the visual processing occipital lobe unaffected...and there might be a bit more to say about that in a moment.

Music is sometimes given a quick and dirty classification as a "right-brained" activity, meaning that the act of processing music is centered on the right hemisphere of the brain. While this fits nicely with the general dichotomy that the left side of the brain is more engaged in logic and the right in creativity, these are all pretty big oversimplifications. While it is broadly true that music involves more of the right hemisphere than the left, the fact is that the processing of music is so diffuse and decentralized throughout the brain that it's hard to come up with any single category for all the different areas involved.

The Deeper Impact

Those, however, are just the basic mechanical aspects of listening to music. A good song can trigger a cascade of secondary responses, often involuntarily. An obvious example of this is the propensity to move in time with music - not so much dancing, which is an active, independent process, but simple motions like tapping one's toe along with the song. This is caused by stimulation of neurons in the motor cortex.

Another intriguing side-effect of listening to music is the activation of the visual cortex, found in the back of the brain in the occipital lobe. Research indicates that some music can provoke a response in this part of the brain, as the engaged listener tries to conjure up appropriate imagery to match the changes and progression in the music.

Part of the reason that music tends to be so meaningful to us is that it's deeply intertwined with memory. Because the brain is so completely engaged in listening to music, it's one of the parts of a situation that is remembered most clearly later on. Songs and pieces of music can serve as powerful triggers for memories - hence the cliche about couples and "their song."

And let's not forget the language aspect of music. Obviously, not all songs have lyrics, but those that do draw upon the language centers of the brain. The two main parts of the brain associated with language are Wernicke's area and Broca's area, the former of which is found in the temporal lobe while the latter is in the frontal lobe. Previous research has tended to indicate that Wernicke's area is more crucial to language comprehension, while Broca's area is more tied up in language production, though it now appears that there's significant overlap. In any event, we can add them to the list of brain regions tied up in music comprehension.

The Subjective Sounds

So just why does music carry so much meaning for us? Because music draws on so many different parts of the brain, it's hard to say with certainty, but that might actually help give us an answer. Music is extraordinarily complex even before it enters the brain - the pitch of music, for instance, has to be much more stable than frequencies we normally sound, or else it would just devolve into chaotic noise. The same is true of rhythm, tone, and other musical properties - these have to be highly complex to cohere into anything even vaguely musical in the first place.

And it's not as though there's any real objective measure of what counts as "musical" and what doesn't. That shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone who's ever read a music review, but it's crucial to remember just how much the brain is involved as an active participant in shaping our interaction with music. Memory is one of the most obvious influences here - you're more inclined to like a particular piece of music if it carries positive associations, for instance.

It's also possible that a person's particular brain chemistry can affect his or her appreciation of music. Considering how many different parts of the brain are activated by listening to music, even one unusual link in that chain can drastically alter the person's response. There's also plenty of more everyday factors to consider - how much a person knows about music, whether they themselves play an instrument, whether the music has lyrics, and even whether it's a recording or a live performance can all dramatically change the particular neural response to the same basic piece of music.

The Hardwired Responses

If there's one constant in all this, it's that songs carry a tremendous ability to provoke emotional responses - indeed, it can even seem that that's our brain's primary concern when it comes to music. Brain imaging studies have shown that "happy" music stimulates the reward centers of the brain, causing the production of the chemical dopamine. That's the same chemical produced from eating great food, having sex, and taking drugs.

Even better, the brain hangs onto the ability to understand the emotional impact of music, even if the finer points of comprehension are lost. One study, for instance, focused on a woman with damage to her temporal lobe - and, by extension, her auditory cortex - that made it impossible for her to comprehend different melodies and other basic parts of musical structure. Even so, she was still able to read the basic emotional content of the music, respond appropriately to "happy" and "sad" music in turn.

This process seems to start early, too. Researchers at Brigham Young University found evidence that infants as young as five months are able to discern when a happy song is playing, and by nine months they've added comprehension of sad music to their repertoire. Interviewed in 2008, BYU music professor Susan Kenney explained what the babies were responding to:

"The happy songs were all in major keys with fairly short phrases or motives that repeated. The tempo and melodic rhythms were faster than any of the sad selections, and the melodies had a general upward direction. Four of the sad songs were in minor keys and all had a slower beat and long melodic rhythms. For an infant to notice those differences is fascinating."

And the effects of such music only increases as we get older. (Considering the babies' responses to the music involved turning their heads slightly, you'd sort of hope it would.) We actually can have physiological reactions to music - happy music with a fast tempo and major key can make us breathe faster, while sad music in a slow tempo and minor key can slow down our pulse and cause blood pressure to rise.

Of course, the roots of those reactions are found back in the brain. It's just another indication of how powerful and multi-faceted our relationship with music really is, and how it's able to change our brains in ways both obvious and so subtle that we can barely comprehend what's happening.

Alasdair Wilkins

Additional Reading

Music, The Brain, And Ecstacy: How Music Captures Our Imagination by Robert Jourdain
Sound Work by Robert Zatorre
Neuroscience and Music
Babies Know Happy From Sad Songs

Big thanks to Robert T. Gonzalez for his help in researching this post. Images via Tim Geers and Ferrari + caballos + fuerza = cerebro Humano 's on Flickr   



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