Kristin
Garson, Violin and Piano

928 442-6817
Prescott, Arizona

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“Balance the brain through the study of music.”

Kristin Garson: What I teach, my philosophy of teaching, and the benefits of balanced brain music lessons:

Balance your brain through the study of music!

1. What am I teaching?

2. How do the piano and violin work?

Question #1: What I am teaching?
The whole package -- left and right brain!

As far as instruments go, it is the piano and violin. What I am teaching also, is the unique benefit of people to balance their brain, specifically through studying music. I take into consideration “the whole package” that the student brings with them, as I get to know them. I treat them like individuals. I individualize my approach according to the learning capacities and learning pace of the given student. Simply put, my goal and intention is for them to love music for the rest of their lives. And like nothing else that children will learn in school, music enables you to balance your right and left brain, and studying music also makes you smarter! It builds your confidence. It is a huge gift that children are giving themselves, and parents are giving to their children, or an adult student would be giving to themselves. I have taught all age groups. But children are of course quite unaware of what studying music is doing for them until they are much older. This is the trick for the teacher then: to make it fun, and mentally stimulating, and to learn different genres of music. Whatever it is, the quality of the music is of utmost importance; to keep their interest, and of course to build that love of music.

As far as the brain goes in relation to studying music, some people have the misconception that their brain is one soft, big mass, when in fact if you would split the brain right down the middle, it looks more like two chicken fillets: a left hemisphere or left brain, and a right hemisphere or right brain. Studying music can build more of a connection between the two hemispheres.

Here is an excerpt from http://psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/a/left-brain-right-brain.htm:

“It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection," explained the study's lead author Dr. Jeff Anderson.

While the idea of right brain / left brain thinkers has been debunked, its popularity persists. So what exactly did this theory suggest?

The Right Brain

According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:

The Left Brain

The left-side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:

Also, the brain is crossed. The left brain controls the right side functions, and the right brain controls the left side functions. And again, studying music will help the two sides of the brain work together more synergistically.

I would also like to take this opportunity to comment about technology and computer use. My own opinion, and from what I have read, is that a lot of children, as they grow and develop are not necessarily at an advantage because they are using computers by age 3 (or maybe even earlier than this??), and because of how our education system is designed. In addition to television, for some parents the computer/tablet is an added “babysitter.” It keeps them engaged, playing computer games. In an excerpt from an article entitled “Computers and children”, the concern is that too much exposure to technology can actually harm children’s development early in life.

The Alliance for Childhood issued the following statement on September 12, 2000:

“Computers are reshaping children's lives, at home and at school, in profound and unexpected ways. Common sense suggests that we consider the potential harm, as well as the promised benefits, of this change.

Computers pose serious health hazards to children. The risks include repetitive stress injuries, eyestrain, obesity, social isolation, and, for some, long-term damage to physical, emotional, or intellectual development. Our children, the Surgeon General warns, are the most sedentary generation ever. Will they thrive spending even more time staring at screens?

Children need stronger personal bonds with caring adults. Yet powerful technologies are distracting children and adults from each other.

Children need time for active, physical play; hands-on lessons of all kinds, especially in the arts; and direct experience of the natural world. Research shows these are not frills but are essential for healthy child development. Yet many schools have cut already minimal offerings in these areas to shift time and money to expensive, unproven technology.

The emphasis on technology is distracting us from the urgent social and educational needs of low income children. M.I.T. Professor Sherry Turkle has asked: "Are we using computer technology not because it teaches best but because we have lost the political will to fund education adequately?"

Given the high costs and clear hazards, we call for a moratorium on the further introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education. We call for families, schools, and communities to refocus on the essentials of a healthy childhood. And we call for a broad public discussion about these critical issues.”

If you would like to read the full article, you can find it here:

http://drupal6.allianceforchildhood.org/computer_position_statement

Students Need To Use Both Sides of Their Brains

And, for many years, the emphasis is on the three “R’s”: reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic, mostly left-brained activities! Children don’t do enough right-brained activities early in life. They should also be learning how to cook healthy, nutritious food (help parents in the kitchen to prepare a meal, for example), using their hands, learning how to grow something such as a plant, flower, or garden, do some kind of art or drawing; moving their bodies through dance, yoga, gymnastics, and of course, play music.

The left side of your brain thinks in concrete ways, such as the literal meaning of words and mathematical calculations, while the right side thinks in more abstract ways, such as symbolism and gestures. There are many, many symbols in music to be learned and many physical gestures and movements to incorporate when playing an instrument.

Because the two sides of your brain process information differently, they work together to keep your emotions in check. Here's an easy way to explain it: The right hemisphere identifies, and the left hemisphere interprets. The right brain identifies negative emotions, like fear, anger, or danger. It then alerts the left brain, which decides what to do by interpreting the situation and making a logical decision about how to act in response.

It's a great system, unless something happens and one side of the brain can't do its job. Without the left brain, the right brain would be overcome with negative emotions and not know how to respond to them. And without the right brain, the left brain would not be as good at identifying negative emotions. Your brain’s hemispheres keep your emotions in check. And with one’s brain being more balanced through studying music, this can only be a further benefit.

Below is a brief excerpt from Norman Doidge, M.D., who wrote a book about the latest brain science entitled “The Brain that changes itself.” It is a fascinating book, about how the brain is not “hard wired” like we thought, but much more plastic and flexible. Dr. Doidge is talking about how cultural activities (such as playing music) change brain structure, from pages 289-290:

“Music makes extraordinary demands on the brain. A pianist performing the eleventh variation of the Sixth Paganini Etude by Franz Liszt must play a staggering eighteen hundred notes per minute. Studies by Taub and others of musicians who play stringed instruments have shown that the more these musicians practice, the larger the brain maps for their active left hands become, and the neurons and maps that respond to string timbres increase; in trumpeters the neurons and maps that respond to “brassy” sounds enlarge. Brain imaging shows that musicians have several areas of their brains—the motor cortex and the cerebellum, among others—that differ from those of nonmusicians. Imaging also shows that musicians who begin playing before the age of seven have larger brain areas connecting the two hemispheres.”

This last sentence prompts me to say that, in my opinion, some teachers are a little too conservative when it comes to the starting age of a music student. How early is too early? I myself have taught many four (4) year olds, and yes, you have to go slower with them, and give them shorter lessons than the six year-olds, but if they have a good attention span, they are fully capable of learning music. If they can learn how to speak a language, they can learn music! I hate to discriminate, but most parents would agree that girls mature a little faster than boys. Therefore, boys are most likely to benefit from waiting until age five (5) to start, but there are also many gifted~and even famous~musicians who are boys that started their musical studies at even ages three and four. It really depends on the child, and that’s why you have to consider each one individually. If a child expresses a strong desire for music lessons of some kind, then of course this is the ideal situation. This is preferable to having the parents initiate the idea and make the child study music against their will. In this case, then the teacher must hopefully cultivate the love of music in the child. The parents and child must feel that the teacher is a good match for them. This is done by interviewing the teacher before official lessons would begin. Choosing the right music teacher is very important to build trust between the child and the teacher, and again, that love for music. Other than their parents, their school teacher, and perhaps a member of the clergy, a child’s music teacher is a person that they see every week, and can become a real mentor and influence for a child. It is also good for a child to learn from an adult, as it teaches a child to respect an adult.

And here is a good list of the benefits of music education from Do Something Tips and Tools

https://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-music-education:

  1. Children who study music tend to have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills than their peers who do not participate in music lessons.
  2. Studying music primes the brain to comprehend speech in a noisy background.
    Children with learning disabilities or dyslexia who tend to lose focus with more noise could benefit greatly from music lessons.
  3. Research shows that music is to the brain as physical exercise is to the human body. Music tones the brain for auditory fitness and allows it to decipher between tone and pitch.
  4. Children who study a musical instrument are more likely to excel in all of their studies, work better in teams, have enhanced critical thinking skills, stay in school, and pursue further education.
  5. In the past, secondary students who participated in a music group at school reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs)!
  6. Schools with music programs have an estimated 90.2 percent graduation rate and 93.9 percent attendance rate compared to schools without music education who average 72.9 percent graduation and 84.9 percent attendance.
  7. Regardless of socioeconomic status or school district, students who participate in high-quality music programs score 22 percent better on English and 20 percent better on Math standardized exams.
  8. Much like expert technical skills, mastery in arts and humanities is closely correlated to high earnings.
  9. A study from Columbia University revealed that students who study arts are more cooperative with their teachers and peers, have higher levels self-confidence, and are more equipped to express themselves and their ideas.
  10. Elementary age children who are involved  in music lessons show greater brain development and memory improvement within a year than children who receive no musical training.
  11. Learning and mastering a musical instrument improves the way the brain breaks down and understands human language, making music students more apt to pick up a second language.   

When I Teach Music:

When I teach music, I am aspiring to teach people to think for themselves. I’m teaching them how to do problem solving. How are they going to master this piece of music? This passage? This phrase? I teach my students to persevere. I don’t let them give up, unless they choose to give up on themselves! I teach them how to observe; how to analyze, and how to perform. I want my students to know the joy of how to go through the process of learning a piece of music, and how to practice so that learning a more difficult piece of music may not be overwhelming to them, or frustrating or downright torturous. So many students practice the incorrect way, and play through (or what I call “plowing through”) a piece of music over and over from beginning to end, repeating the same mistakes over and over, hoping that the music will by some miracle get better, but never really does reach the level they were hoping for, and, it takes them at least two or three times longer to learn music this way. This is what I mean by torturous! Who would even want to practice their instrument like that?? But many do. Sometimes when I am teaching a student a piece of music, I don’t even start at the beginning of the piece, and I go to the most challenging part and work on that first. Then the rest is easy! I also teach my students how to tell the difference between “just playing the notes” and real music-making. I want them to express themselves and their emotions, and not be embarrassed or ashamed to do so! Most of the time, unless it is specifically marked in the music to stay at the same volume, I want the student to be able to vary the volume of the music ~I don’t want it to sound the same and be played at the same (monotonous) volume all the way through the music, so that there is some variety! I want their hearts to be lifted, and lift the hearts of others. I want their music, at times, to be fiery, passionate, and visceral. Or, maybe it’s a lullaby, and it’s so serene that the listener does fall to sleep…but once in awhile, that’s what the music is meant for….to give the listener a peaceful state of being. I want my students to be able to evoke a wide range of emotions through their making-making.

And as far as the future in general is concerned, it is very unpredictable in this crazy world of ours. People used to work their whole life and receive that gold watch and that pension at the end of their careers. Now, for the majority of people, that is gone. Employment may be unstable, or at times nonexistent; people may work at many different jobs during their life, or change careers more than once, and people will have many, many difficult problems to solve, or overcome. Life may not be easy (it isn’t now, for most of us), and people will have to adapt to many kinds of environments. Early education, including music, is very important, and will help our children to be more prosperous in the future.

And this is where music comes in. Since their brains will be more balanced, they will have the tools to make better decisions for themselves; they have developed the qualities of perseverance, and confidence through performing music, and the emotional outlet it provides, to name a few! And often, studying a musical instrument will more likely lead people to the career that they are best suited for.

As far as methods of teaching go, on the piano I use mainly the N. Jane Tan method and the Piano Adventures Method by Faber & Faber, along with a healthy mixture of Classical, Modern, good quality popular, and jazz music. I like my students (both piano and violin) to play music from composers that are still living; not only dead composers!

Raised by Chinese parents from the Philippines, N. Jane Tan has created a sequential series of books and music literacy materials designed to instruct students in an oral tradition begun with Beethoven, passed down to Bela Bartok and all the way to students today.

The technique focuses on hand gestures and wrist flexibility in order to enable pianists to get the most variety and beauty of sound out of the piano.  “Shaping the phrase” is a term used commonly in the Tan teachings, which refers to beginning a section of music with a downward wrist motion and circling the wrist like a smile downward, half circling upward and ending with the wrist to the sky.  This way the sound tapers from loud to soft, from strong to gentle, like a sentence with a beginning, middle and end.

This piano method, for me, is by far the most intelligent way to teach the piano, and it makes so much sense! The students can incorporate these gestures using the fingers, wrists, and arms, to make playing the piano much easier. It is so much fun to play and teach this way and the students all seem to grasp it pretty quickly.

For the violin, I use primarily the Mark O’Connor method and Suzuki method, with other method books and music of different genres like the piano. The violin students really like the Mark O’Connor method, with all its American folk and fiddle tunes in it, and the music is a lot of fun to teach! It is a great compliment to the Suzuki method, which offers more Classical tunes, with some tunes written by Suzuki himself, and also more folk tunes. In addition, I teach a mixture of Classical and Modern music on the violin as well. As far as pedagogy (the method or approach I take to playing and teaching) for the violin, I use the Ivan Galamian method, mixed with some other European methods and approaches to playing the instrument I have learned along the way, as well as the methods and approaches of pedagogue Paul Rolland, whom I studied with in High School.

Question #2:
How does a piano work?

If you would like to learn more about this subject, here is a link from Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano

If you would like to learn more about how a violin works, here is a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_physics_of_the_violin

--Kristin Garson