Sunday, April 25, 2010

Music lessons build brainpower


Music lessons build brainpower
School districts cutting arts programs should first consider that playing an instrument activates neuro-pathways to facilitate learning.

Steve Lopez

April 25, 2010


All of which takes me back to April 14, when David Robertson, a Santa Monica High alum (1976), returned to campus, made a pitch for Measure A and was treated like a returning hero.

Robertson, one of the brightest conductors in the world of classical music, was in town to lead his St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in a Disney Hall performance that night. But he stopped by SaMo High first to hang with members of the school's premier orchestra and hear them play Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 and Bernstein's Overture to "Candide."

Robertson was impressed, but not surprised. He told the students that in all his worldly travels, he's never seen a public music program as good as the one in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, where he sang in first grade, began studying trumpet in fourth grade and played in an orchestra by 6th grade.

"No other program compares," Robertson said.

In the audience, teachers and parents told me about students of all income levels who have prospered in the program and gone on to great universities, some studying music and some not. Also in the audience was a friend of mine, L.A. Philharmonic violinist Robert Gupta, a New Yorker, who, amazingly, joined the orchestra in 2007 at the age of 19. And here's where the brainpower angle comes in.

High school music instruction isn't threatened in Santa Monica just yet, but the elementary school program could take a big hit, which reminded me of Gupta's theory on how studying music at an early age can develop the brain.And by the way, he's no slouch on the subject. Gupta graduated from college with a pre-med biology degree at 17 and two years later also had a master's in music.

"The corpus callosum is enlarged" when you study music, he explained to me at Santa Monica High, saying the expansion of that pathway increases communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.

We were backstage by then and Robertson chimed in, saying the visual, audio and motor skills learned in music build brainpower.

"Any time you learn, what you're doing is building a network that will fire automatically," said the conductor, explaining how a musician travels along a C-major scale without rethinking every step in the process.

This kind of development is particularly helpful at an early age, said Gupta, because a child's brain has many more neurons and is far more active than an adult's. That's why it's easier to learn music, or language, as a kid, particularly if the brain gets lots of exercise.


Read the full post HERE.

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