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Thank Your Mom for Those Piano Lessons: The Amazing Link Between Music and Cognition

Thank Your Mom for Those Piano Lessons: The Amazing Link Between Music and Cognition

For years, moms have been making their kids take summertime piano lessons. Not surprisingly, moms know best: it turns out those piano lessons may have helped you more than you realize. Over the summer, students typically lose over 22% of what they learned the previous year. They call it “summer slide” and Kim Bellini, director of the LearningRx center in The Woodlands, Texas, has seen it firsthand.

In a recent article, Bellini says "Speaking from my experience as a teacher, we typically spend the first six to eight weeks of the school year helping students relearn what they forgot over the summer. It's just like working out muscles - you have to keep your brain trained."

So, how can we keep kids’ brains in shape and avoid summer slide? Here’s one way that might surprise you.

Summer Slide – A Smart (and Musical) Idea

I once heard a lecture by a man named Andrew Pudewa, called The Profound Effects of Music on Life. It was a generally fascinating lecture about music and how it’s really good for your brain. He said that, for developing a child’s brain, playing the piano is one of the best things possible because it integrates four key elements: the visual (reading the notes on the page), the tactile (plunking out the notes on the keyboard), the auditory (hearing those same notes played), and the metronome (which forces the student to do all three at once). He had all kinds of stats showing the amazing gains that piano students experience, compared to other students, in their general cognitive abilities.

What caught my attention is that LearningRx’s methods mirror this technique. We combine and integrate visual, auditory and tactile stimulus, and we use a metronome. The lecture was given back in 2001, and assuming that Mr. Pudewa was conducting his own research during the previous decade, it was right around the same time that Dr. Gibson was in the middle of developing the LearningRx program. Neuroscience, and especially the findings concerning neuroplasticity, have changed the way that not only education, but the arts, are being understood.

Summer Slide – Okay, but what if my kid isn’t musical?

Not everybody can (or wants to) play the piano. Can you think of something your child enjoys that integrates their visual, auditory and tactile senses in an ordered way? It doesn’t have to be piano. It could be another instrument, it could be dance classes, or competitive quizzing clubs, or even at-home quizzing games they could play against their siblings for prizes.

And if you really want them to get ahead of the curve, hire a personal brain trainer for them – because after brain training, forget summer slide – they’ll be asking the teacher “why are we learning this again?”