Fergus Black

music teacher and performer


Why are lessons so expensive?

Here is a letter to The Guardian on 15th October 2005, that might help to explain the cost:

"Why do people always assume music doesn't cost anything much and that we do it for love? (re: letter from Julie Hawes, October 1). I would estimate that a piano teacher has more over-heads than a driving instructor. A decent piano costs about the same as a small car, and needs to be tuned every six months. But the teacher also must live in a property of a certain size to have the space for a piano.Then there's the training. To reach "Grade 8" and be able to play a Mozart sonata and Chopin nocturne would take seven to eight years. And all the music needs to be bought. Then you would need three or four years at music college or university. I don't think it takes that long to train as a driving instructor.

Helen Powell, email"

But they are worth it?

Even the Daily Mail (!) think that music lessons are good for you. See this article:

How learning to play a musical instrument can boost your IQ

By DAILY MAIL REPORTER, 27th October 2009

Playing a musical instrument could make you brainier, it is claimed.

Research suggests that practising scales and chords and mastering complex patterns of notes changes the shape of the brain.

It can even boost IQ by as much as seven points. And it is never too old to learn, with pensioners benefiting too.

Myleene Klass at the piano
Pianists, such as classically-trained Myleene Klass, can change the shape of their brain by regularly practising scales

Swiss experts say there is growing evidence that musicians' brains look and work differently from those of others.

The parts of the brain that control motor skills, hearing and memory become larger and more active when a person learns how to play an instrument. Alertness, planning and the ability to read emotions also improve.

What a cracking invention: Wallace and Gromit-style breakfast-making machine that guarantees a perfect start to the day

Lutz Jancke, of the University of Zurich, said: 'We found that even in people over the age of 65 after four or five months of playing for an hour a week there were strong changes in the brain.

The parts of the brain that control hearing, memory, and the part that controls the hands, among others, all become more active. Essentially the architecture of the brain changes.

'For children especially we found that learning to play the piano, for instance, teaches them to be more self-disciplined, more attentive and better at planning.'

Learning a musical instrument can also make it easier to pick up new languages and interpret the emotions of others.

The psychologist, who reviewed research into the issue for an article in the Faculty of 1000 Biology Reports, said: 'When you play a musical instrument you have to learn about tone and about scores and your ability to store audio information becomes better.

'Not only does this make it easier to pick up other languages, musicians are able to pick out exactly what others are feeling just on the tone of their voices.'

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Or, if you prefer the broadsheets, here is an article from the Daily Telegraph - it is over ten years old now, but age has not wearied it... :

Piano puts children in tune with maths

By Robert Uhlig, Technology Correspondent
Daily Telegraph, 20th March 1999

THE KEY to mathematical dexterity is to buy your children a piano first and a computer second, according to new research.

Taking piano lessons and solving mathematics puzzles on a computer both significantly Improve the abilities of primary school pupils, a study discovered, but piano tuition appears to play a greater role.

The study by University of California Irvine researchers is the links development of higher brain latest in a series that musical training to the development of higher brain functions. Gordon Shaw, emeritus professor of physics who led the study, said hat piano instruction is thought to enhance the brain's "'hard-wiring'' for spatial-temporal reasoning, or the abiliy to visualise and transform objects in space and time.

Like mathematics, music involves ratios, fractions, proportions and thinking in space and time, he said.

Proportional maths is usually introduced in the sixth year of school and is vital for university-level science. It has proved to be difficult to teach to most children using the usual language-analytical methods.

"It is the first academic hurdle that requires children to grasp underlying concepts before they can master the material. Rote learning simply does not work" Prof. Shaw said.

The scientists studied 135 second-year pupils in Los Angeles. Children given four months of piano training and time playing with maths and geometric puzzle computer software, scored 27 per cent higher on proportional mathematics and fractions tests than other children.

If the piano lessons were replaced with time at a computer that gave instruction in English, the children's mathematical abilities declined.

Prof. Shaw said the worst performers were those who had neither piano lessons nor time on a computer playing with the maths puzzle software.

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