One weekend when I was 8 years old I woke up to a piano being carried into my living room by two burly men. Within weeks of the piano being delivered a man by the name of Mr. Nicholwitz arrived. He was introduced to me as my piano teacher. Mr. Nicholwitz would arrive at my home every Saturday morning donning a suit and a fedora hat. He looked like he had stepped off a train in the 1940s. He would slowly walk up our front driveway carrying a large folder under his arm with unruly loose leaf pages sticking out. When he sat down he wouldn’t say a word he would just open his folder and almost look surprised at the seemingly random song that he pulled out.
“Oh YES,” he would say. “This is a good one. Play this one.”
Sometimes I would play through the entire piece, if I had played it before and sometimes I would play it and get stumped half way through. He would then say, “Oh that was really good for now – we will come back to that song next time…here try this one, ” as he seemed to again randomly select a song from his folder.
He would never make me replay the part I was struggling with. He encouraged me that I would do it better next time. After three years of piano lessons he had me sight-reading the songs that he loved – from “The Entertainer” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to Beethoven and Bach. When I played “a particularly good one,” he would lean back in his chair, close his eyes and smile slightly. His enjoyment of the music made me want to keep playing.
Although not a very orthodox way of learning the piano (and perhaps why I am not an excellent piano player today….although I am a pretty good sight reader) Mr Nicholwitz did teach me three things that have I carried with me throughout my life.
1) There is a lot of great music out there. It is meant to be explored, enjoyed and shared. You don’t have to “do music” the way you think you are supposed to “do music” to have great outcomes – improvising, exploring, listening, dancing, and humming are all ways you can experience music and still achieve beneficial outcomes.
2) Music is meant to add life to your life, and let’s face it during challenging times humans have benefited from music’s incredible capacity to help us escape into something more pleasant.
c) Science also teaches us that there are even greater reasons to learn music, regardless of your age or ability. A study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience on May 24, 2017 found that learning to play a sound on a musical instrument alters the brain waves in a way that improves a person’s listening and hearing skills over a short period of time. Basically this means that the brain can rewire itself and compensate for weaknesses, including injuries or diseases that may restrict a person’s capacity to perform certain tasks. “Music has been known to have beneficial effects on the brain, but there has been limited understanding into what about music makes a difference,” says Dr. Bernhard Ross, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI). “This is the first study demonstrating that learning the fine movement needed to reproduce a sound on an instrument changes the brain’s perception of sound in a way that is not seen when listening to music.”
Have I convinced you to try learning an instrument yet? . If you have thought about it recently, even for a moment, my last suggestion is for you to contact your local music studio and just sign up. In Calgary we work with two great studios – RS Music Studios (also sells instruments) and Cornerstone Music Cafe (also has amazing food and coffee) – but any local studio is definitely a great place to start – just keep your ear out for a teacher, that through their approach, you feel supported and inspired. Like my music experience with Mr. Nicholwitz you may learn life lessons that you never anticipated.