Category Archives: Education

New study shows benefits of music lessons in children

According to a new study from the Radiological Society of North America, “taking music lessons increases brain fiber connections in children.” In particular, these fiber connections increased in a part of the brain in which a decrease in connections has been linked to autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

“It’s been known that musical instruction benefits children with these disorders,” said Pilar Dies-Suarez, M.D., chief radiologist at the Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez in Mexico City, “but this study has given us a better understanding of exactly how the brain changes and where these new fiber connections are occurring.”

She added, “Experiencing music at an early age can contribute to better brain development, optimizing the creation and establishment of neural networks, and stimulating the existing brain tracts.”

In the study, scientists monitored 23 children aged between five and six, assessing them before and after nine months of music lessons. The panel noted increases in fiber connections in a part of the brain known as the minor forceps. They hope their findings can be used in developing interventions directed at young people with ADHD and autism.

“When a child receives musical instruction, their brains are asked to complete certain tasks,” Dr. Dies-Suarez said. “These tasks involve hearing, motor, cognition, emotion and social skills, which seem to activate these different brain areas. These results may have occurred because of the need to create more connections between the two hemispheres of the brain.”

Composer Corner: von Bingen

November’s composer of the month is Hildegard von Bingen.


Born: 1098

Died: Sept. 17, 1179


Five facts:

• Von Bingen was born the 10th child to a noble family. As was custom at the time, she was dedicated to the church at birth. She became a nun at age 18.
• She was known for having visions, claiming that she first saw “The Shade of the Living Light” at age three.
• Hildegard was incredibly prolific. In her life, she wrote nine books, 70 poems, 72 songs, and even a play.
• Von Bingen was sick for much of her life (it was believed she suffered from severe migraines), but she lived to the age of 81.
• She was formally declared a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. Her feast day is celebrated on Sept. 17.


Three important works:

• Laus Trinitati
• O viridissima virga
• O ignee spiritus


Audio Backpack playlist: Hildegard von Bingen

Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ and why you should listen to it

One of the most familiar pieces of early 18th century music (and perhaps classical music in general) is Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”

But what makes it so memorable and significant? As teacher Betsy Schwarm notes in the Ted-Ed video “Why should you listen to Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’?”, part of its allure and importance lies in its use of programmatic elements.

Schwarm points out a few of the components of musical imagery that Vivaldi portrays in the piece:

• Spring — birds welcome spring with a happy song,  a thunderstorm, followed by more birds (wet and frightened from the rain).
• Summer — a singing turtledove and a hailstorm.
• Autumn — hunters dashing about in search of prey.
• Winter — teeth-chattering cold, taking refuge by a crackling fire, and back out into the storm.

Watch the Ted-Ed video below to learn more about the underlying musical narrative in “The Four Seasons,” and see the entire lesson on Ted-Ed’s website.

Classical music and popcorn help fuel PSAT preparation

According to a recent Kaplan survey of 400 teens preparing to take the PSAT this month, classical music is the most popular soundtrack for test preparation.  Mozart, in particular, was cited as the favorite composer to listen to while studying.

“Depending on the individual, studying with music can be calming, motivating or distracting, so we recommend students find whichever works best for them,” says Vice President of College Admissions Programs for Kaplan Test Prep, Lee Weiss. “What’s important is that they stay motivated, calm and focused.”

In terms of study fuel, most common options are popcorn, chips, Cheetos, and chocolate. Somewhat surprisingly, water is the overwhelming beverage choice among teens studying for the test — nearly four times as popular as coffee or soda. Weiss warns against snacks that have a lot of sugar (which can lead to fatigue and irritability), and recommends high-protein snacks instead.

Weiss also advises that students plan their study schedule ahead of time and avoid the typical last-minute cramming: “The night before a big test should be spent relaxing and getting a good night’s sleep.”

Millions of teens across the country will take the PSAT on Oct. 19. For more information (as well as free practice exams) visit Kaplan Test Prep.



Composer Corner: Reich

October’s composer of the month is Steve Reich.


Born: October 3, 1936


Five facts:

• Reich’s music was not well-received initially, and he had to work as a taxi driver and social worker to earn a living.
• In 1967, Reich formed a collective ensemble with fellow composer Philip Glass. They also formed a moving company — Chelsea Light Moving.
• Reich was inspired to visit Ghana in 1970 to study with master drummer Gideon Alorwoyie, resulting in his 90-minute work, Drumming.
• Critic Kyle Gann has stated that Reich may be considered “America’s greatest living composer.”
• Steve Reich won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his Double Sextet.


Three important works:

• Piano Phase (1967)
• Clapping Music (1972)
• Music  for 18 Musicians (1974-76)


Audio Backpack playlist: Steve Reich

Composer Corner: Schoenberg

September’s composer of the month is Arnold Schoenberg.


Born: September 13, 1874

Died: July 13, 1951


Five facts:

• Schoenberg is most famous for ‘discovering’ the 12-tone method of composition, which involved taking the 12 notes of the musical scale and arranging them in a pre-determined order.
• Composer Richard Strauss once said of Schoenberg, “He’d be better off shoveling snow than scribbling on manuscript paper.”
• In the 1930s, Schoenberg fled Nazi Germany for a teaching job in Los Angeles, where he spent the rest of his life.
• The composer suffered from triskaidekaphobia — fear of the number 13. Ironically, he died on Friday the 13th, 1951.
• Before dying, his last words were “Harmony! Harmony! Harmony!”

Three important works:

• String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 7 (1905)
• Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11 (1909)
• Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21 (1912)

Audio Backpack playlist: Arnold Schoenberg

A lesson in a-rhythm-etic

Clayton Cameron is a world-renowned percussionist, with a career spanning nearly four decades. He is particularly known for his skills with contemporary drumming and brushes — which is why he’s known as “The Brush Master.”

In the TED-Ed video “A-rhythm-etic: The math behind beats,” Cameron demonstrates a number of different genres from hip-hop to Latin to jazz … and breaks them down in terms of math. Watch the TED-Ed video to learn about the relationship between math and rhythms found in these various genres, and see the entire lesson on TED-Ed’s website.

For more on the percussion family of instruments, check out our Class Notes video, “Choosing the Right Instrument for You: The Percussion Family.

Composer Corner: Shostakovich

August’s composer of the month is Dmitri Shostakovich.


Born: September 25, 1906

Died: August 9, 1975


Five facts:

• Shostakovich was a huge soccer fan. He was even a certified referee.
• His String Quartet No. 8 (later arranged into the Chamber Symphony) was written over the span of just three days.
• According to his daughter, the composer was a perfectionist and “obsessed with cleanliness.” He would send cards to himself to test the efficiency of the postal service, and synchronized all the clocks in his apartment.
• Shostakovich got himself in trouble with his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. He was made an ‘Enemy of the People’ and the opera was described as “coarse, primitive and vulgar.”
• He was also regarded as a great film composer, writing music for 36 films (including The Golden Mountains).

Three important works:

• Twenty-Four Preludes and Fugues (1932-33)
• String Quartet No. 8 (1960)
• Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major (1964)


Audio Backpack playlist: Dmitri Shostakovich

Music and emotion through time

In the TedEd video, “Music and emotion through time,” Michael Tilson Thomas — acclaimed music director of the San Francisco Symphony — provides a vast and informative overview of the development of classical music.

Watch the video below and see the entire lesson on TedEd’s website.

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Sounds of Blackness partners with High School for Recording Arts

Earlier this year, Grammy Award-winning ensemble Sounds of Blackness collaborated with students from St. Paul’s High School for the Recording Arts (HSRA) on “Royalty” — a positive, anthemic song for Black youth.

“So often the terms and phrases applied to African American youth are negative: at risk, inner city, thug, gangster,” Sounds of Blackness music director Gary Hines tells the Twin Cities Daily Planet. “They’re not the descendants of slaves, they’re the descendants of royalty —it’s such a radical notion to so many.”

David “T.C.” Ellis (founder of the HSRA) went to school with Prince, and even collaborated with the artist and the New Power Generation. He wants to continue some of the things that Prince did for music, education, and youth. “He was a friend of mine and was a lot of the inspiration for me to do what I’m doing now,” Ellis says.

Hines says, “One young lady, not one of the singers, saw the video and said, ‘Until I heard this song, I didn’t know I could be royalty. I thought you had to have blond hair and blue eyes. Nobody has ever called me that before … We’re using ‘Royalty’ for the positive image of the young person so they can have a different perspective. We’re saying you are special, you do deserve that and, given the resources you need, you can be successful.”

The “Royalty” single is available on iTunes, and you can see the video below — directed by Dario Otero and produced by Gary Hines.