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How much, how often, how long? These are all questions we ask ourselves when we think about our approach to music practice. 

It is so refreshing for me to be at Hazlegrove where I see young children and their enthusiasm for learning music and this is the starting point for our approach to music practice.

Music practice all comes down to mind-set and problem solving. "I can’t play that" should become "how shall I fix it? – it is not working the way I am doing it now – can I find another way". Practising is just problem solving and the joy of music is that there is no set way from a technical point of view.

This webpage is about sharing useful pieces of information that we (the peris and myself) have gathered over many years of experience both through individual practice and performance. Our experience of problem solving is here to share with you - children and parents.

There should be a joy in exploring the ways around a piece of music but sometimes there is a shortcut that professionals acquire through experience this is place it will be added. Life is so busy for our children these days and 20 minutes can fix something that could potentially take 20 hours, these new webpages are aimed to be a useful tool for your home use.

Gradually you will see pieces of useful information added by us here to encourage you and help you feel confident to support your child in their music practice.

In order to get us started I have added an interesting article – food for thought. I believe it so important that children learn an instrument and persevere with it as it has a huge impact on their neurological development and the scientists exploring this are finding amazing results.

Victoria Sayles
Director of Music

We have found the following articles interesting and would like to share them with you.  Please click on the headings below to read more...

Why do stars like Adele keep losing their voices? - An article published in the Guardian

An article published in the Guardian on Thursday 10 August 2017

Why do stars like Adele keep losing their voice?

More and more singers are cancelling big shows and turning to surgery to fix their damaged vocal cords.  But is the problem actually down to the way they sing?  By Bernard Warner

Please click on the link below to read the article...

news/2017/aug/10/adele-vocal-cord-surgery-why-stars-keep-losing-their-voices

Children’s brains develop faster with music training

The following article is taken from the Knowridge Science Report website and be accessed directly at https://knowridge.com/2017/01/childrens-brains-develop-faster-with-music-training/ 

Music instruction appears to accelerate brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills, according to initial results of a five-year study by USC neuroscientists.

The Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) at USC began the five-year study in 2012 in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) to examine the impact of music instruction on children’s social, emotional and cognitive development.

These initial study results, published recently in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, provide evidence of the benefits of music education at a time when many schools around the nation have either eliminated or reduced music and arts programs.

The study shows music instruction speeds up the maturation of the auditory pathway in the brain and increases its efficiency.

“We are broadly interested in the impact of music training on cognitive, socio-emotional and brain development of children,” said Assal Habibi, the study’s lead author and a senior research associate at the BCI in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “These results reflect that children with music training, compared with the two other comparison groups, were more accurate in processing sound.”

For this longitudinal study, the neuroscientists are monitoring brain development and behavior in a group of 37 children from underprivileged neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Thirteen of the children, at 6 or 7 years old, began to receive music instruction through the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program at HOLA. The community music training program was inspired by the El Sistema method, one that LA Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel had been in when he was growing up in Venezuela.

Learning the violin

The children learn to play instruments, such as the violin, in ensembles and groups, and they practice up to seven hours a week.

The scientists are comparing the budding musicians with peers in two other groups: 11 children in a community soccer program, and 13 children who are not involved in any specific after-school programs.

The neuroscientists are using several tools to monitor changes in them as they grow: MRI to monitor changes through brain scans, EEG to track electrical activity in the brains, behavioral testing and other such techniques.

Within two years of the study, the neuroscientists found the auditory systems of children in the music program were maturing faster in them than in the other children. The fine-tuning of their auditory pathway could accelerate their development of language and reading, as well as other abilities – a potential effect which the scientists are continuing to study.

The enhanced maturity reflects an increase in neuroplasticity – a physiological change in the brain in response to its environment – in this case, exposure to music and music instruction.

“The auditory system is stimulated by music,” Habibi said. “This system is also engaged in general sound processing that is fundamental to language development, reading skills and successful communication.”

Ear to brain

The auditory system connects our ear to our brain to process sound. When we hear something, our ears receive it in the form of vibrations that it converts into a neural signal. That signal is then sent to the brainstem, up to the thalamus at the center of the brain, and outward to its final destination, the primary auditory cortex, located near the sides of the brain.

The progress of a child’s developing auditory pathway can be measured by EEG, which tracks electrical signals, specifically those referred to as “auditory evoked potentials.”

In this study, the scientists focused on an evoked potential called P1. They tracked amplitude – the number of neurons firing – as well as latency – the speed that the signal is transmitted. Both measures infer the maturity of the brain’s auditory pathways.

As children develop, both amplitude and the latency of P1 tend to decrease. This means that that they are becoming more efficient at processing sound.

At the beginning of the study and again two years later, the children completed a task measuring their abilities to distinguish tone. As the EEG was recording their electrical signals, they listened to violin tones, piano tones and single-frequency (pure) tones played.

The children also completed a tonal and rhythm discrimination task in which they were asked to identify similar and different melodies. Twice, they heard 24 melodies in randomized order and were asked to identify which ones differed in tone and rhythm, and which were the same in tone and rhythm.

Children who were in the youth orchestra program were more accurate at detecting pitch changes in the melodies than the other two groups. All three groups were able to identify easily when the melodies were the same. However, children with music training had smaller P1 potential amplitude compared to the other children, indicating a faster rate of maturation.

“We observed a decrease in P1 amplitude and latency that was the largest in the music group compared to age-matched control groups after two years of training,” the scientists wrote. “In addition, focusing just on the (second) year data, the music group showed the smallest amplitude of P1 compared to both the control and sports group, in combination with the accelerated development of the N1 component.”

Musical Training Optimizes Brain Function - Christopher Bergland

The following article is taken from 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201311/musical-training-optimizes-brain-function

Published online 13/11/2013

Neuroscientists are discovering multiple ways that musical training improves the function and connectivity of different brain regions. Musical training increases brain volume and strengthens communication between brain areas. Playing an instrument changes how the brain interprets and integrates a wide range of sensory information, especially for those who start before age 7. These findings were presented at the Neuroscience 2013 conference in San Diego.

In a press briefing on November 11, 2013 Gottfried Schlaug, MD, PhD—who is an expert on music, neuroimaging and brain plasticity from Harvard Medical School—summarized the new research from three different presentations at the conference. These insights suggest potential new roles for musical training including fostering plasticity in the brain; have strong implications for using musical training as a tool in education; and for treating a range of learning disabilities.

Playing a musical instrument can cause fundamental changes in a young person's brain, shaping both how it functions and how it is physically structured, researchers say. "Listening to and making music is not only an auditory experience, but it is a multisensory and motor experience. Making music over a long period of time can change brain function and brain structure," Schlaug said. 

Three Brain Benefits of Musical Training:

Musicians have an enhanced ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch, and sight.

The age at which musical training begins affects brain anatomy as an adult; beginning training before the age of seven has the greatest impact.

Brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, leading to less reliance on working memory and more extensive connectivity within the brain.

"Music might provide an alternative access into a broken or dysfunctional system within the brain," said Schlaug. Adding, "Music has the unique ability to go through alternative channels and connect different sections of the brain."

Three New Studies on the Brain Benefits of Musical Training

The first study, conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal, asked trained musicians and non-musicians to respond to sound and touch sensations at the same time. Two sounds were delivered at the same time a person received one touch sensation, which was intended to create the perceptual illusion that the person actually had received two touch sensations. 

Since musicians have to simultaneously work their instrument, read sheet music and listen to the tones they produce, the researchers predicted that they would be better at differentiating sound from touch. Their hypothesis was correct. Non-musicians fell for the perceptual illusion, but musicians did not, according to researcher Julie Roy from the University of Montreal. "Musicians are able to ignore the auditory stimuli and only report what they are feeling," Roy said, adding "that this is solid evidence of an improved ability to process information from more than one sense at the same time."

The second study involved brain scans of 48 adults aged between 19 and 21, who had at least a year of musical training while growing up. The researchers discovered that brain regions related to hearing and self-awareness appeared to be larger in people who began taking music lessons before age 7.

These findings seem to indicate that musical training can have a huge impact on the developing brain, since brain maturation tends to peak around age 7, said lead researcher Yunxin Wang, of the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning at Beijing Normal University. Specifically, these areas tended to have more gray matter leading to a thicker cortex, which is the outer layer of the cerebrum.

The third study found that brain circuitry can be reshaped by musical training through neuroplasticity. For the study, Swedish researchers analysed brain function of 39 pianists who were asked to play a special 12-key piano keyboard while having their brain scanned in an MRI. Ana Pinho, the lead author of the study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, reported that systematic training actually helped improve brain areas related to music improvisation. The ability to improvise improved brain connectivity resulting in less dependence on working memory.  

“Pianists who were more experienced in jazz improvisation showed higher connectivity between three major regions of the brain's frontal lobe while they improvised some music,” said Pinho. “At the same time, they showed less activity in brain regions associated with executive functions such as planning and organizing, which could mean that trained improvisers are able to generate music with little conscious attention or thought,” Pinho said.

Playing an Instrument Before Age 7 Benefits Brain Architecture for a Lifespan

The findings presented at the conference are backed by multiple previous studies. In particular, a January 2013 study titled “Early Musical Training and White-Matter Plasticity in the Corpus Callosum: Evidence for a Sensitive Period” published in the Journal of Neuroscience earlier this year reported that musical training before age 7 helped brain development. Children who started taking music lessons early had better connections across the corpus callosum which connects the left and right hemispheres of the cerebrum.

A variety of studies have suggested that early training might be related to greater amounts of white matter in the corpus callosum. This study compared white-matter organization using diffusion tensor imaging in early- and late-trained musicians matched for years of training and experience.

The researchers found that early-trained musicians had greater connectivity across the corpus callosum. Musical training and practice at a young age improved due to the sensorimotor synchronization required to play an instrument. They concluded that training before the age of 7 years results in changes in white-matter connectivity that may serve as a solid scaffolding upon which ongoing experience can maintain a well-connected brain infrastructure into adulthood.

My 6-year-old daughter is lucky to take bi-weekly piano and violin lessons. In addition to practicing a musical instrument, my daughter's daily activities include a broad range of athletics that bulk up the gray matter of both hemispheres of her cerebellum and improve motor skills. Schoolwork and making art increases brain volume and connectivity between both hemispheres of her cerebrum. This combination of activities strenghtens the connectivity between all four hemispheres of her developing brain which optimizes brain function.

Some of the brain changes that occur with extensive musical training are reflected in improved automation of task—much as one would recite a multiplication table—and the acquisition of highly specific sensorimotor and cognitive skills required for various aspects of musical expertise.

Conclusion: Musical Training Increases Brain Volume and Connectivity

"Playing a musical instrument is a multi-sensory and motor experience that creates emotions and motions—from finger tapping to dancing—and engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain. It has the potential to change brain function and structure when done over a long period of time," according to Gottfried Schlaug. "As today's findings show, intense musical training generates new processes within the brain, at different stages of life, and with a range of impacts on creativity, cognition, and learning," he concludes. 

"All these findings ultimately could lead to improved therapies for people with brain injuries or learning disabilities," Schlaug said. Adding, "Music might provide an alternative access into a broken or dysfunctional system within the brain. Music has the unique ability to go through alternative channels and connect different sections of the brain."

A tribute to the prolific musician and acclaimed conductor Sir Neville Marriner

It was announced recently that Sir. Neville Marriner died. I was tremendously fortunate during my time as a professional violinist to work with him several times. I have this week, therefore, decided to add the New York Times tribute to him and his lifetime dedication to music. He was educated in Dorset and would look back at his time in the Southwest with great fondness and I remember discussing this with him many times. An inspiration to us all and a farewell to one of the great musicians and conductors of our time.

Miss. Sayles

Article taken from the New York Times

Click here or read below...

Neville Marriner, a prolific British conductor responsible for some of the best-selling classical recordings of all time, died on Sunday at his home in London. He was 92.

His death was announced by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, one of the world’s most acclaimed chamber orchestras, which Mr. Marriner founded in 1958.

From humble beginnings, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields grew over the years into a powerhouse. Its recording of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” was a best seller in 1969, as was its soundtrack to “Amadeus,” the hit 1984 film about the life of Mozart, which sold more than 6.5 million copies, reached No. 1 on the Billboard classical albums chart and won a Grammy.

Born on April 15, 1924, in Lincoln, England, Mr. Marriner studied violin, composition and piano at the Royal College of Music and the Paris Conservatoire and was soon playing with the London Symphony Orchestra, where he was principal second violin from 1956 to 1968.

He established the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields during his time with the London Symphony. The ensemble began modestly, with a group of 15 friends performing in his home, and gave its first public performance in 1959 in the London church from which it took its name.

It was with that small group of friends that Mr. Marriner began conducting — or, as he said in a 1978 interview, “twitching around.”

“You know, the actual mechanics of conducting are not very difficult,” he said at the time. “It’s getting the confidence. It’s like taking a driving test.”

In a statement on Sunday, the Academy said its discography was one of the largest of any chamber orchestra in the world and described its partnership with Mr. Marriner as “the most recorded of any orchestra and conductor.”

“Sir Neville’s artistic and recording legacy, not only with the Academy but with orchestras and audiences worldwide, is immense,” Paul Aylieff, the chairman of the Academy, said. “The Academy will ensure it continues to be an excellent and fitting testament to Sir Neville.”

Mr. Marriner was not just a prolific musician. He also figured prominently in debates over how music from the early modern period — such as the work of Mozart, Bach and Handel — should be played in the present day.

He advocated smaller, more agile groups for early music, and he remained committed to playing that repertoire with modern instruments, even as an insurgent movement urged a return to instruments and styles that had been in use in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Mr. Marriner was principal second violin in the London Symphony Orchestra from 1956 to 1968.CreditErich Auerbach/Hulton Archive

Mr. Marriner dismissed the insurgents as “the open-toed-sandals and brown-bread set,” but their rebellion soon achieved a measure of success and eventually became its own kind of establishment.

The New York Times music critic John Rockwell wrote in 1987 that Mr. Marriner was “our most stylish conductor of what might be called the centrist early-music movement.”

Mr. Marriner began his career as a conductor after playing violin with some of the most renowned conductors of the 20th century, including Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Pierre Monteux, who was a mentor to him.

Apart from the Academy, as a conductor Mr. Marriner founded the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and served as the music director and principal conductor of both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Southwest German Radio Orchestra in Stuttgart. He also conducted a number of other orchestras in Europe, the United States and Japan.

His repertoire eventually expanded past the early moderns to encompass Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and 20th-century British composers like Britten and Elgar.

All the while, he worked to foster the growth of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, which remained a constant in his life and career. He served as its music director from 1958 until 2011 and held the title of life president until his death.

He was honored three times for his service to music in Britain. He was named a Commander of the British Empire in 1979, knighted in 1985 and made a Companion of Honor, an order that recognizes achievements in the arts, science, politics, industry and religion, by Queen Elizabeth II last year.

Mr. Marriner is survived by his wife, Molly; a son, Andrew, the principal clarinetist of the London Symphony Orchestra; a daughter, Susie; three grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Joshua Bell, the star violinist who succeeded Mr. Marriner as music director of the Academy in 2011, remembered him in a statement for “his brilliance, his integrity and his humor, both on and off the concert platform,” and said he would “always be the heart and soul of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.”

When asked once in a television interview why he had decided to devote his life to classical music, Mr. Marriner cited the influence of his parents, whom he described as “fanatical classical music enthusiasts.”

“I suppose I was born into it, really,” he said. “I didn’t know any other sort of music, really.”

He said becoming a conductor had allowed him to overcome his own shortcomings as a violinist, which he likened to being “like an actor with a speech impediment.” Being a conductor, he explained, allowed him to harness the talents of an entire orchestra.

“What I felt about music I couldn’t express completely,” he said. “When you’re a conductor, virtually, you exploit a lot of very talented musicians. They’re in front of you and you’re taking from them the best that they can offer. So the potential for having a really satisfactory musical experience is greater.”

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