If you ask piano teachers why they chose teaching piano as a profession, the answers will most probably sound something like this:
“I love music...”
“I love piano…”
“This is what I am good at…”
“I want to share my passion…”
“I love children...”
“I’m a good teacher...”
“I want to make money...”
“I want to instill the love of music in the next generation...”
“I want to be an educator...”
Have you ever considered the following?
“I want to enhance the lives of children with special needs.”
If you haven’t thought of your teaching as a form of an effective therapy that can transform the lives of children with special needs, then maybe it is time you do.
Did you know that according to research, learning the piano can have the following effects on our brain?
Improve executive functioning and working memory.
Improve attention span.
Promote brain plasticity and strengthen the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
Improve reading skills.
Improve mathematical abilities.
The list is inexhaustible and I am not attempting to add to what research has already proven.
What I am about to do, is to share my own experience on what playing piano has done to my own students!
Improve posture, improve coordination and rewire the brain:
Jack* (now 10) started lessons last year. Jack suffered from brain damage affecting all the left side of his body, he had very little control over his left arm, left leg, left eye, and all of his left side of the body. Sitting straight on the piano stool alone with a straight back was a challenge, let alone playing piano with his left hand which was even a greater challenge. Only pressing one single note with one finger was way out of reach. Fast forward…after only 6 months of piano lessons, Jack started showing measurable results, his posture improved drastically, he gained more control over his left hand and left fingers…6 more months pass by… and Jack is getting ready now for his first ABRSM exam, which only a year ago seemed quite out of reach. Not only his piano skills improved, but also his ability to walk and sit straight. His ability to move his left arm and left hand improved significantly and he was able to join school after being previously home schooled.
Discover hidden talents
Research suggests that the correlation between autism and perfect pitch is very high and close to 100%.
While I have to mention that only half of the autistic children I teach passed the perfect pitch test, this is still a very high percentage, especially that none of my typical students has a perfect pitch.
Some of these students, after only a few months of playing the piano showed great talent and started improvising and creating beautiful music. Which makes me become an even stronger believer that piano lessons should be accessible to all children with autism.
Improve communication and language skills
My students’ parents notice a big difference in their communication and language skills after only a few months of consistent lessons and practice.
“Piano sessions developed my son’s talent and his passion for music, and at the same time, they were a therapy for his speech delay.”
Khaled’s mother - Khaled (6 years old)
Science backs this up and proves that brain is plastic; new pathways and neurons are always forming in the brain. The brain is actually able to change through life, especially whenever something new is learned and memorized.
Previously, it was believed that with age, the connections in the brain became fixed. However, research has shown that the brain never stops changing through learning.
Playing the piano involves moving the ten fingers independently while reading and interpreting the sheet music at the same time. It is like performing a monster brain workout. Many new neurons form during this activity.
The new neurons and connections that playing piano forms are then used by functions other than playing the piano. Research actually proves that playing the piano improves language and communication as a result of these new connections.
Improve hand eye coordination and fine motor skills
Andy is a 15 year old boy on the spectrum with developmental delays. He started piano lessons less than a year ago. For years he has gone through multiple forms of therapy and his parents thought he reached a plateau…that was until he started piano. His teachers are consistently becoming astonished at the progress he is making in his handwriting, which previously was ineligible and huge. Now after less than a year of piano, Andy can write very clearly and neatly, and at last is able to independently tie his shoe lace. Imagine what would have happened had he started piano earlier!
Increase attention span
This is the first benefit that every single parent notices after around 2 months of lessons. The children can actually hold their attention without needing a break for longer periods of time, until they are able to sit through the 30-minute lesson without any interruptions.
Improve social interaction and sense of belonging to the community.
Playing piano gives the children a creative lifetime hobby. It gives them an artistic way of expression.
They are always part of the recitals and they love to participate in them, which is a wonderful opportunity to make them feel included and welcome, especially that in some other aspects of their lives they may feel excluded and discriminated against.
Participating in recitals and other social events involving piano, makes them more likely to develop appropriate social and communication skills.
These are but a few examples of how transformative piano lessons can be. I believe that it’s our duty as piano teachers to educate, spread the word, and share our experience with everyone to make sure that this form of therapy can become available to all children who need it. We have the duty to join hands with centers that cater for these children and explain what we witness on the piano bench over and over again because piano lessons can be an unexpected form of therapy that produce significant results in a relatively short period of time.
*All names mentioned in this article are pseudo names to protect students' privacy.