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The Prodigious Power of Piano Playing

BRIAN CHUNG

practice makes perfect.You’ve probably heard that saying a hundred times, especially if you’ve ever studied the piano. Mom said it, so it must be true, right?

Well, hold on a minute — nothing against Mom, but let’s get real: “Practice makes perfect” is a terrible motto for piano players. First of all, it’s incorrect — how can anything become “perfect” if, every time, you practice it wrong? And second, it can’t even come close to capturing the prodigious power of playing the piano. So, with all due respect to that venerable axiom, trash it — and make way for a motto that proclaims the real benefits of piano playing: Practice makes prosperous.

People usually associate the word prosperous with wealth. While that’s certainly part of its meaning, many dictionaries suggest a broader definition: to be prosperous is to flourish, to thrive . . . to be successful. Therefore, the phrase practice makes prosperous declares boldly that those who play the piano are far more likely to flourish, thrive, and experience success in life than those who do not. Quite a stretch, you say? Read on.


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Thriving Children

Consider what happens when eight-year-old Bobby decides to embrace serious piano practice. Not only does he embark upon a wondrous musical adventure (possibly the greatest benefit of all) but, perhaps unconsciously, heacquires a diversity of skills far beyond the musical notes:

  • He learns to work hard. Anyone who excels at the piano has made a commitment to practice with vigor and determination.
  • He learns to focus. In a world where iPods, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and mobile texting have made multi-tasking the de facto way of life, young people are at risk of losing the art of concentration. Piano practice reminds Bobby how to focus on one thing — and do it well.
  • He learns to be responsible. Serious pianists learn that faithful, consistent practice — even when they don’t feel like doing it — will bring great satisfaction over time.
  • He learns to pay attention to details. As his skills mature, Bobby learns to observe the fine points and use the most subtle nuances to create art.
  • He learns to be self-reliant. While practicing, Bobby can’t always rely on Mom and Dad for help. To succeed, he must learn to work well on his own.
  • He learns to be creative. Creativity is a musician’s lifeblood. Pianists use it not only to express musical ideas, but also to conquer the physical and mental obstacles that arise when learning new music.
  • He learns to persevere. There is little satisfaction in learning only half of a piece of music. The deter-mined pianist finds joy in following through to the very end.

These are only some of the skills Bobby will acquire as he devotes himself to diligent piano practice. So, how will such practice make him prosperous?

Ask employers what they look for when interviewing young job candidates for their top positions. Most are looking for a well-defined set of character traits. Specifically, they want people who know how to work hard, can focus well and avoid distractions, are responsible, will pay attention to details, are self-reliant and creative, and will persevere on a project from start to finish. Sound familiar?

You see my point. The skills Bobby learns by practicing the piano will be of immeasurable value to him not only in job interviews, but in every area of his life. People who have these skills are more likely to flourish in college, thrive in the work world, advance in their careers — and generally enjoy success in any field of endeavor.

Test scores support this contention. Studies show that students of music typically score higher on SATs than do non-music students — on average, 57 points higher on the verbal section and 41 points higher in math.1 Further, a 1994 study showed that college undergraduate students who majored in music had the highest rate of acceptance to medical school (66%).2 Practice makes prosperous. Prepare your children for success in life: Introduce them to the piano.

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Thriving Adults

But how about you? Are you among the 82% of adults who have always wanted to learn how to play an instrument?3 Did you know that adults can gain as much as younger people from playing the piano?

Even if you’ve already achieved career success and significant wealth, there can be so much more to a prosperous life. Consider what happens when Nancy, a baby boomer and successful business owner, decides to join a recreational group piano class for adults:

  • She immediately feels relief from stress. After hours of intense daily pressure at work, Nancy finds it easy to unwind at the piano. The class moves at a comfortable pace and no one is ever required to play solo — which means zero stress. In her personal practice and in class, Nancy can just relax and have fun.
  • She’s making new friends. Because recreational piano classes are taught in groups, Nancy enjoys getting to know others who share a common interest. Many of her classmates are professional people like her who, after raising a family, are finally getting to try the things they’ve always wanted to do. The warm camaraderie among class members is a wonderful surprise.
  • She enjoys playing her favorite songs. Nancy always dreamed of learning her two favorite Beatles tunes. Now, she’s thrilled to play these and many other classic hits for friends and family.
  • Her mind and spirit are enlivened. The process of learning something completely new has been intellectually and emotionally stimulating for Nancy. She enjoys a sense of adventure when exploring new musical concepts and genres with her classmates. Playing the piano has made her feel more fully alive.

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Studies have shown that recreational group music-making can significantly improve the quality of life and personal well-being among those who embrace it. So even when you’re playing the piano just for fun, practice makes prosperous in meaningful ways that far exceed the balance in your 401(k).

To give the piano a whirl, contact a local music store or independent piano teacher to find out about recreational piano classes in your area. Whether you’re young or old, striving for success or just playing for fun, the prodigious power of playing the piano can change your life.

Brian Chung is Senior Vice President of Kawai America Corporation and a leading proponent of the benefits of making music. He is also a pianist, and co-author (with Dennis Thurmond) of Improvisation at the Piano: A Systematic Approach for the Classically Trained Pianist (Alfred Publishing, 2007). Visit his website at  www.brianchung.net

1 Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers.The College Board, compiled by Music Educators National Conference, 2001.
2 Peter H. Wood, “The Comparative Academic Abilities of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University,” ERIC Document ED327480 (1990).
3 U.S. Gallup Poll. 2008 Music USA NAMM Global Report (August, 2008): 139.



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