There are many resources to validate that music lessons of varying types increase intelligence. If you Google “music and cognitive development”, there are no less than 4,000,000 articles.

The question then is: How can we optimize music learning to enhance cognitive development? What is the link between learning music and cognition?

After thinking upon this for a long time I have come to the conclusion that the most basic link between music and cognition as well as the link to physical and emotional learning is pattern recognition. Pattern recognition is the ability to create order out of random events. Patterns can be found in ideas, words, as well as numeral and spatial concepts. It is an essential ability necessary for your capacity to think logically. Here is the Wikipedia information and also another link on pattern recognition in humans:
Pattern Recognition (psychology)
Humans are the World’s best pattern recognition machines but for how long

Learning piano through the Suzuki method uniquely develops pattern recognition. This is done first aurally, then physically, and then through making the connections between the sound and the tactile sense. Additionally through repeated listening, “understanding” develops of the smallest pattern which is repeated in many variations as well as the a sense of the larger patterns such as whole pieces, movements and larger works. When Suzuki students memorize the aural patterns and connect them physically and mentally they are internalizing patterns in a very different way from students who learn to read symbols and depend on the visual cue to “know” which notes to play. So, in addition to developing the ability to recognize patterns, music study develops the ability to understand the relationships between those patterns, and to be able to create from this level of understanding.

As students are learning the melodies of the pieces in Suzuki Book 1 they are learning the pattern sequences of the notes – going up/going down/repeating the same sound. They are learning the similarities and differences of these patterns for the phrases in a piece, and also the form of the whole piece. They can play many different pieces. As they internalize the patterns, they are working on the quality of the sound and how to use the body to get the best sound. This way, the knowledge from the repetitions becomes ability and the *implicit learning about the patterns becomes actualized. This is important to note, because it is the self-discovery and experience of playing the patterns that develops the ability.

Through this process the framework is developed for the more advanced pieces. It is much better to take time to develop the solid basics and then the children can progress naturally with ease and ability. This is truly what Dr. Suzuki meant when he said these two important phrases:

“Knowledge plus 10,000 times equals ability” “Raise your ability on a piece you can play.”

In Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind”, he proposes what he considers to be the necessary qualities to be successful as society changes from “the information age” to “the conceptual age”:

“Symphony, as I call this aptitude, is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.”

Psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book “Working with Emotional Intelligence” writes about a study of executives at fifteen large companies:

“Just one cognitive ability distinguished star performers from average: pattern recognition, the ‘big picture’ thinking that allows leaders to pick out meaningful trends from a welter of information around them and and to think strategically far into the future.”

I firmly believe that all students who begin piano at a young age and with the right environment can learn to perform a full piano concerto by memory in collaboration with an orchestra and at the same time have an individual expression before they finish high school. I already have seen many students do this. By setting these aspirations for the children and giving them the steps to achieve these goals over each week, each month, year, and ultimately their childhood, we are creating patterns of work, dedication, enjoyment, and success that will enable them to be adults who envision and create their life.

Piano Ability is Life Ability!
Children are so wonderful,
Leah Brammer

*Implicit Learning: This kind of learning has been called various names including ‘learning by osmosis’, ‘thinking without thinking’, ‘the adaptive unconscious’, and also ‘natural learning’.

Books Quoted in this Post: