Numerous studies indicate that learning to play piano as preschoolers sets a child up for later academic success. But tell most parents or grandparents of energetic preschoolers, and they will wonder how they could make their kids sit still long to play a whole song. The study clearly shows that kindergartens that are exposed to early piano / keyboard lessons have an advantage in school. The trick is to find a method that is engaging and fun enough to motivate young children to learn, but teaches them how to read and play real music.
There are certain periods of time, known as windows of opportunity, in a child’s brain development when it is especially open to certain forms of learning. When children discover the joy of piano, brain cells (neurons) connect to form the types of complex thought patterns necessary to excel in math and science. But from about age 5, neurons that are not connected to the brain’s overall wiring begin to disappear – and so does the possibility of intelligence in that area of the brain.
As neural connections are responsible for all forms of intelligence, a child’s brain develops to its full potential only with exposure to the necessary enriching experiences of early childhood. Dr. Frances Rauscher from the University of Wisconsin and Dr. Gordon Shaw of the University of California has been investigating the link between musical and non-musical training on preschoolers’ intellectual development for many years. Their studies show that music training generates the neural connections used for abstract reasoning, including those needed to understand mathematical concepts.
In one study, Dr. Rauscher and Dr. Shaw the effects of musical and non-musical training on kindergarten intellectual development. They found that preschoolers who received piano or keyboard training performed 34% higher on tests measuring spatial-temporal ability than other kindergartens. Those who were trained on piano or keyboard could think in pictures and watch the images move or change shape over time – a crucial ability for later success in math, science and engineering.
Researchers at the University of California observed two separate groups of kindergartens. Group one took piano lessons and sang every day in a chorus. Group two did none of them. After a period of eight months, the musical three-year-olds in Group 1 were expert puzzle masters, scoring 80% higher than their playmates in spatial intelligence.
A research team investigating the connection between music and intelligence reported that music training is far superior to computer instruction to improve children’s abstract reasoning skills. Music training triggers certain inherent patterns in parts of the brain that are responsible for such reasoning. Computer lessons do not force children to think ahead or visualize as they should when playing a piece of music. With the rise of the Internet and the proliferation of high-tech jobs requiring computer skills, there seems to be less interest in music and arts education. Fortunately, while all this is happening, numerous studies by experts in the field show that studying art – especially music – can actually help develop the necessary skills when learning about computers.
The world’s top academic countries place a high value on music education. Hungary, the Netherlands and Japan are at the top of the world’s scientific achievements and have a strong commitment to music education. Based on Dr. Rauschers and Dr. Shaw’s groundbreaking work revealed a recent study at the University of Munster in Germany that practicing piano in early childhood expands the mind and literally changes the brain anatomy.
While a parent or grandparent may understand the benefits of early piano / keyboard instruction, searching for a method that is fun and easy can be a daunting task. Fortunately, there are several programs that parents or grandparents can choose from. Depending on their individual situation, a parent or grandparent may choose to attend group lessons with their child or even teach their preschoolers at home using one of the available methods.
Kindermusik classes give children the opportunity to sing, move and play simple rhythm instruments ideally with about eight children, each accompanied by a parent (www.kindermusik.com). At the age of 4 ½, Kindermusik students start a music appreciation class that teaches them about music from around the world. The children apply their music skills to pre-keyboard instruments. These children can then move on to piano lessons with a private instructor.
Another program called Pace uses an excessive keyboard mat that is placed on the floor. Instructors point to the white keys and black keys as children change at the piano. Rhythms are played as a group of rhythm sticks and note rhythms are written.
There are several programs available that allow parents to teach their preschoolers to begin piano at home. Local music stores have several series of early piano books designed for early instruction. Eg. Uses Music for Little Mozart’s funny cartoon characters to teach young children how to play piano or keyboard.
Recently, programs such as piano for kindergartens have become available (www.pianoforpreschoolers.com). This special program allows parents without musical background to teach their kindergarten to play piano at home. This method uses color-coded tones written by a traditional musical staff to teach beginning piano concepts. Kindergartens can begin their study as soon as they recognize their colors.
Whichever method a parent or grandparent chooses, the benefits of early piano / keyboard instruction are evident. Children who begin music education as preschoolers develop their natural musicality and this love of music can last a lifetime. The times spent with a caring parent or grandparent sharing their talents are just an added bonus.