Friday, June 28, 2013

Teacher Feature: Meet Multi-Instrumentalist Jay Bryan Sandifer

Jay Sandifer doesn't play just one instrument....he plays many. He has been playing since 1982 and has taught over 150 students. Jay strongly believes music education should be an enjoyable experiece and here's why:

Q: How did you first come to learn your instrument? 

A: Somewhere around the age of nine years old, I was practically, no!...literally, forced by my mom to take piano lessons. I hated it. I continued private piano lessons thru eleventh grade. In seventh grade I joined the school band not knowing anything about instruments, let alone which one I wanted to play and the teacher handed me a baritone (which I played thru eleventh grade). My tenth grade band teacher suggested private lessons because I was apparently having difficulty reading the bass clef.  I also started jamming with some friends around eighth grade. At that time I picked up playing keyboard, drums and guitar ...and haven’t put them down yet!
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Jay Bryan Sandifer

My earliest  musical influences consisted of simple classical pieces like the Minuet, Sonatina, Prelude, Toccata and Fugue and the music my dad listened to; most notably,  The Beatles, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac,  Neil Diamond, and the “oldies”.  As a teenager in the 1980’s, my first contemporary musical influences consisted of  Michael Jackson, Foreigner, Asia,  Styx, Journey, Billy Squier, Joan Jett  and taped top 40 radio mixes. As a budding rebellious teenage musician, I reached back 20 years into the music from  the british invasion progressing quickly into classic psychedelic and acid rock groups. I stopped for quite some time on groups like The Grateful Dead,  Jim Morrison and The Doors,  The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd,  Steve Winwood and Traffic, The Eagles,  and of course ….Led Zeppelin.

Q: Did you take music lessons? 

A: Yes, I took music lessons! I had  four different piano teachers because we moved a lot.  I had three different band instructors. One piano teacher said I would probably never be professional, but also said I had nice hand position. I am convinced one teacher should never have been teaching because she would leave the TV on during my lesson.  One of the band instructors used to get mad and throw his eraser across the room.  One band instructor had me writing sentences like, “I will not be a distraction during band class”....thousands of times. And I wonder if one of the teachers was having some promiscuity issues with her students.....but not me. None of the teachers seemed to be able to help develop my ability to play by ear.

Q: What's the best thing about teaching music?

A: Online teaching is not much different than teaching in person. Teaching is like coaching, and often times coaching is hands off observation followed by intuitively wise, inspiring and encouraging instruction. Instruction translates pretty well thru video.  The compliments students give their instructors so that others may read is very satisfying. Those compliments come from students who are genuinely affected by quality training and coaching. A positively changed life is a satisfied life.

Q: What's your best piece of advice for musicians? 

A: I believe one of the best pieces of advice for anyone is this: don't quit. As you may have heard it said, “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Follow your heart and passion. Decide what it is you want  and where it is you would like to be and then make plans . Write down your plans. Find ways to spend time with others who are already there....and don’t let anyone talk you out of it!

Q: The highlight of my musical career is...

A: The highlight of my musical career happens when I am leading such intense worship  it actually  feels like the room is about to explode with the very vibration of light and power!

Q: Every musician should know....

A: Every musician should know why he/she is a musician. If a musician does not know why he/she is a musician,  there will never be a secure and satisfying sense of purpose.

Learn more about Jay Sandifer on The ZOEN and book a guitar, drum, voice or piano lesson.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Music and the Brain: A Powerful Combination

“Did you hear that?” It's an easy enough question to answer but a complicated function for our brain. We all know to “power up” the brain with exercise, good nutrition and sleep. But would you believe music can not only ‘feed’ the brain but can actually shape the brain? Now that's power! Want a more powerful brain? Keep reading…

 photo ID-10034113_zps27021ce0.jpgAt their first public conference on “The Musical Brain” at the Royal Institution in London, Professor Michael Thaut showed that through the use of rhythm, we can stimulate the improvement of neurological processing and cortical reorganization in injured brains. “This technique is proving to be more effective than conventional physiotherapy." Professor Thaut reported that the process of learning to play an instrument refines the development of the brain and the entire neurological system

Psychologist Frances Rauscher of University of California-Irvine says music lessons appear to strengthen the links between brain neurons. There are a number of studies that show a connection between music and the development of the brain. 

 Dr. Frank Wilson is an assistant clinical professor of neurology at the University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco. He reports that the process of learning to play an instrument refines the development of the brain and the entire neurological system. Dr. Wilson says that he has found through music, people become an active participant in their own physiological development. His research has shown that involvement in music connects and develops the motor systems of the brain in a way that cannot be done by any other activity.

In support of this, Dr. Wilson shared recent data from UCLA brain scan research studies which shows that music more fully involves brain functions (both left and right hemispheres) than any other activities studied. Dr. Wilson feels these findings are so significant that it will lead to a universal understanding in the next century that music is an absolute necessity for the total development of the brain and the individual.

Want a healthy brain? Keep playing music!

Guest contributor Linda Tippett teaches piano, keyboard and music theory. She believes that music is both food for the brain and food for the soul. Book a lesson with Linda and decide for yourself!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ear Training Basics: Tips, Tools & Resources

Ear training, the process of developing your ear for music, is the most effective way to get the freedom and instinctive understanding of music you want: on your instrument, in your composing and improvisation, and even just in listening to great music.

Unfortunately, ear training (like music theory) is often taught in a boring way...if at all.

In this age of amazing modern technology there's no excuse for that. Easy Ear Training is on a mission to ensure that ear training is so easy, fun, and truly effective that every musician will make it a part of their music learning...and reap the powerful musical rewards!
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If you're an iPhone or iPad user, Easy Ear Training offers apps for learning the fundamentals like intervals, chords and melodies. Want to practice hearing these things in real music? Check out their "Unravelling Music" albums. And they've recently started publishing some handy all-in-one eBook guides to key topics, with music examples embedded right in the book so you can listen while you learn.

By including ear training as part of your music practice you can make faster progress on your instrument, and you'll probably enjoy learning music a lot more.

If you want to start exploring ear training, you can try the free Easy Ear Training apps or read all about it on theie website. Pick a topic, or read the "Top 10 Reasons to do Ear Training".

And when you're ready to take the next step, know that Easy Ear Training offers discount rates on their new eBooks to all ZOEN students. Just use the following links:

Ear training is an essential exercise for musicians. Take it from Easy Ear Training's founder Christopher Sutton whose ear training successes helped him to become a 'real' musician (after years of feeling like a fraud). If you've got an ear training story to share, please do so in the comments below!

Friday, June 21, 2013

[Teacher Feature] Meet Violinist Victoria Glava

Pianist, performer, songwriter and violinist. Victoria Glava has made music her life. She's a passionate player and teacher with the credentials from Columbia University to back it up. Recently we asked Victoria to answer a few questions about her musical life. Here's what she had to say:

ZOEN: How did you first come to learn your instrument? Who were your early musical influences?

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Victoria Glava
VG: Both of my parents play and teach the violin/piano professionally. My musical inspiration came from the thriving creative environment my parents fostered in our home. Playing together with my mother and father helped me take the leap into international music exploration and ensemble performances. 

ZOEN: Did you take music lessons? Who was your most influential teacher? 

VG: I took lessons from various teachers across the globe. I learned important lessons from all of them - even from those with whom there wasn't much chemistry. My most beloved and respected teacher is Motoi Takeda. He truly helped me to open up to the endless reservoirs inside me that were impatiently waiting to bloom. This has become a continuous transformation of taking chances, living the musical moment, and drawing beyond horizons.

ZOEN: What's the best thing about teaching music? 

VG: Teaching is a journey that naturally blends with my sensibilities. I've got a love for learning, educating, exploring, questioning, pondering, and constructively disagreeing. I am animated and passionately inspired every time a student comes to his/her lesson and asks whether we can improvise or learn a specific song. In my opinion, the teaching experience takes a whole new level when the initiative comes from the student, rather than from the teacher. I like to call myself a facilitator. I provide opportunities for my students to explore, unlike a 'conductor' who tells the students what to do.

ZOEN: What's your best piece of advice for musicians? Is it the same for students of all levels?

VG: I like to believe that for musicians who play professionally or recreationally, music has an immeasurable ability to become part of them - a continuation of their entire being. However, I do believe that this process of becoming one with the music is an intricate one. It takes time for the relationship to evolve into different shapes and ideas. These vary for each person depending upon their age, music taste, instrument they choose, goals they have, and their background.

ZOEN: The highlight of my musical career is...

VG: Every day is a new beginning! Every day has its highlight however insignificant. I tend focus on overfall career progress versus the awards or opportunities I have received. A diploma, award or competition winning is what I consider an immediate future achievement rather than a life altering accomplishment. Thus, highlights happen on a daily basis. The question is: How do I take lessons from these highlights and incorporate them into the next step of my journey?

ZOEN: Every musician should know....

VG: 'I don't know anything.' The more you know, the more you want to know and so it goes...

For more from Victoria Glava visit her website or book a lesson with her on The ZOEN.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

9 Ways to Find Inspiration For Your Songwriting

No matter who you are, you will have times where you just get stuck trying to  come up with an idea. Painters, marketing professionals, software developers, and musicians all get stuck with creative blocks sometimes. Though it applies to so many different professions, it is commonly known as Writer's Block. All songwriters, even the most well-known, hit creative blocks during their songwriting efforts. The trick is finding ways to break through that creative wall and finish the song. This article is about some of the typical ways artists use to get past cases of Writer's Block when creating new songs.

Give It A Name First
 photo Writers_Block_zpsdf411555.jpgWhile this may not be a universally agreed-upon approach, many songwriters consider the name of the song a good place to start. After all, the song title typically embodies the central theme of the song's story. How can you create a story without having a central theme to build upon? It is held that Bon Jovi's hit song "Wanted Dead Or Alive" was written this way. It was written out of the title and the central theme associated with the title. So the next time you get stuck and you haven't titled the song yet, give this approach a try and see what ideas 

Set Yourself A Schedule
If you only wait for inspiration to strike, then you may have to wait a while. Instead, try creating a scheduled writing time each day and sticking with it. This harkens to Jerry Seinfeld's famous productivity method for his own comic writing. He would take a large calendar, and each day that he spent time writing new material he would put a big red X on that day on the calendar. As the chain of red Xs grew in length, it compelled him to not break the chain. Setting yourself a regular time to sit down and just work on your songwriting helps you build it into a normal habit rather than being some kind of work. By writing on a regular basis, you are also getting "practice" at it the same way you spent time practicing your instrument each day when you were learning to play. The more you do something, the easier and more automatic it will become.

Work In A Dedicated Space
Pick a place in your home or have a separate studio you can work in without distraction. This is a common tip for people who have work at home jobs because it helps to "separate" their focus. By creating a focus-oriented work space where you do nothing but work on your music, you set your mind up to separate yourself from non-musical thoughts when in your "writing space." Eliminate any unnecessary distractions in the area. If you don't need to access the Internet, then unplug from it. Use a pen and paper instead of a computer to write? Don't have your computer next to you then. Break it down to the necessities for your writing and your writing will flow more easily.

Listen To Some Good Tunes
Sometimes you just need to listen to the songs that inspired you to become a musician or songs that you feel represent the kind of music you want to create. Some artists have been known to take another artist's song and jam on it to get inspired and create a new song out of that inspiration.

Look Everywhere for Inspiration
Don't limit yourself to just listening to your favorite artists for inspiration. Get out and find new, less obvious sources. Steve Vai's song "Bad Horsie" came from creating the sound of a horse neighing. He simply used his whammy bar to mimic that sound and later a whole song came from it. Look all around for ideas when you are writing.

Take a Break and Relax
Sometimes the easiest way to get those creative juices flowing is to stop trying to force them. Step away from your writing and get out in the sun. Take a walk, sit down and read, or even just take a nap. Do something to let you be at ease and not straining to create. Try meditating on what you have written so far, or just sit and let your mind wander. Go and grab yourself a snack if you're hungry. Snacks such as various nuts, berries, and seeds contain useful vitamins for improving mood and mental functions. Go and drink a big glass of cool water to make sure you are properly hydrated.

Break Away From The Normal
Sometimes you just have to get away from your "normal" writing method. Change the scenery and write at the park. Try writing on a different instrument or one you are less efficient at. Write specifically for an instrument you normally don't write for. Switch hands when you write your lyrics or try playing your instrument backwards. Create obstacles for your writing to force yourself to be more creative as you try to write.

Take The Red Pill and Free Your Mind
Sometimes you just need to "lose" your focus. By this I mean to not focus on any particular aspect of the song beyond the central theme. With your main theme in mind, start writing lyrics without lifting your pen, or fingers if typing, for several minutes. Don't stop during your writing until the time limit is up. Do not stop to evaluate or criticize what you've written. If you can't think of anything, then just write that you can't think of anything. This method is called Free Writing or Stream-of-Consciousness Writing. After writing for several minutes this way, then you will go back and look for anything that stands out. Take the "stand out" idea(s) and build from there.

You can do something similar for writing instrument parts. Set up an audio or video recorder of some kind and just start playing whatever comes to mind. There are a multitude of options for recording audio and video. With anything from a smartphone to a tablet or just a tape recorder, you can easily find a way to capture your ideas. Remember this isn't meant to be perfect. You are just letting your mind work and see what happens. You don't need a top-notch recording setup to do this. The quality of the audio/video only matters to the point that you can clearly hear what you played.

Just Have a Laugh At the Woes of Others
This doesn't mean to laugh at those who are truly misfortunate. But laughter is a great way to relax. Check out funny videos on Youtube, or for a more music-oriented laugh, watch Tenacious D's The Pick of Destiny.

James Higgins is a songwriting coach, performing guitarist and music teacher with 14 years of experience. Check out his blog Unveil Music to get the inside scoop on being an independent musician or book an online lesson with James.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fun & Games: Shake Up Your Music Practice Routine

Learning to play music isn’t always fun and games...but it could be more often. If your usual practice routine is getting stale, consider adding some of these elements to the mix:

Make it Fun - Time flies when you’re having fun so try adding some games to your next practice session. Your teacher is a great resource for music games, but if you’d like to do a little research of your own, here’s where to start:

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Theta Music Trainer is a super comprehensive site filled with games and activities. Sharpen your listening skills, master music theory and have a little fun while you’re doing it. This site is well worth checking out.

eMusic Theory’s drills and interactive theory concepts are a great way to start honing your skills. Their online resources are free to everyone. Its also worth noting that their subscription tools are a serious bargain.

Music Games. This site sure is cool. If there’s a music skill you’re looking to master, they’ve probably got the game for it. Rhythm games, memory games. You name it. Also - its 100% free.

New York Philharmonic - This website is packed with great information for all walks of musicians and music lovers. Their resources range from web features and concerts to multi-media events. Their Kidzone offers loads of games and activities for younger learners.

Get App-y - If tech is more your scene, look to your iPad, tablet or smartphone for help.

Easy Ear Training is a great tool to check out if you’re looking to improve your ears. Whether you’re just beginning or looking to master your instrument, ear training should be part of your plan. As he recently shared with us, ear training is how the company’s founder Christopher Sutton became a 'real' musician (after a decade of feeling like a fraud).

Music Tutor Sight Read and Notes! are both worth checking out if you’re struggling to learn how to read music. Notes! caters to a younger audience while Music Tutor Sight Read is an easy and effective app for students of all ages.

Rhythm Sight Reading Trainer is the tool for you if you need an assist in the rhythm department. A good sense of rhythm is an essential skill for musicians...and not one that comes easy to everyone. Try this app out to get a feel for the basics.

So, there you go. Explore these sites and apps and you'll be having more fun with your music practice in no time! If you've got a favorite learning game or app to share please do so in the comment box below.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

LIFE LESSONS: What Music Really Teaches Us

There’s a whole lot more to learn from music than just notes on a page. We asked our teachers to weigh in with the greatest life lessons music has taught them - as students, as teachers and as members of the music community. Here goes:

PATIENCE. Without it you can't focus. AND listen before you speak. Whether its words or notes, both should have meaning, worth, and passion. If you have that others will listen. - Matt Brechbiel, Guitar

Being an amazing musician is only half of the equation.  Be a kind and generous colleague, and people will want to work with you! - Danielle Hundley, Flute

Not every student learns the same way. The freedom and encouragement of discovery and adaptation are essential to a healthy musical development. Music cannot be forced and neither can true life. There must be a willingness and that willingness deserves strong positive coaching and mentoring. - Jay Sandifer, Guitar, Drums, Piano & Voice

 photo photo4_zps94de6db7.jpgConfidence. I still get the jitters before a performance, even when I'm well-prepared. However, since I have made it through with flying colors many times before, I know I can do it again. I take this into every situation I face, reminding myself that if I'm prepared, I CAN DO IT! - Fran Beaudry, Clarinet

Playing in ensembles has taught me about teamwork in the purest sense. Some would say a group is only as good as it's weakest player but that is only a small part of it. To me the most important aspect is that the music is best when the music comes first. Personal egos only get in the way. That's hard coming from a trumpet player. - Mike Andreas, Trumpet

According to a great deal of research in the field, a person's good history with music shows up quite vividly in a physically better-developed brain. Music profoundly impacts the brain's plasticity to such a degree that the brain re-wires its connectivity after each new exposure ... a new note, chord, song. A more highly performing brain is reason enough to keep the music playing as we swim in this sea of air through which sound travels. - Linda Tippett, Piano

Don’t bother comparing yourself to others. It’s both unhealthy and counterproductive. - Daniel Foran, Voice

I learnt (and still experiencing) that living and embodying the subtlest emotions while performing or listening to music, can empower or disable one's potency to perceive an altered state of mind. - Victoria Glava, Violin & Piano

There can always be more cowbell. But should there be? Creating and performing music is a great analogy for much of life: finding balance (a good music mix is like a recipe), highlighting what's important at any given time (solo), teamwork (every member of the band/mix plays a role), humility (the best performers serve the music), transcendence (music can almost always transport us), and communicating ideas and emotions effectively. - Phil Amalong, Piano

What life lessons have you learned through music? Leave us a comment!

Friday, June 7, 2013

4 Advantages to Learning From a Teacher Vs. YouTube

I have mixed feelings about music tutorials on YouTube. On one hand, I love that they offer many students a chance to work independently on music they’re excited about. Learning a brand new song in a matter of a few hours is exhilarating and works wonders for their confidence.

Yet there’s something always something missing when one of my students plays a tune learned this way. Sometimes it’s a technical thing like an odd chord choice or off-sounding rhythm. Other times they'll omit a difficult part of the song as the video didn’t really explain it well. Quite often a student will admit that there’s something fishy about the way the whole thing sounds.

It never manages to surprise me.

I’m not trying to put down anyone who uses or makes tutorial videos; it’s a daunting task to try to fit all the necessary instruction for an entire song into a short video. I don’t hold it against you, but I think it’s only fair to shed light on the things you’re missing out on. Here’s a reason (or four) that having a teacher will always--always--yield better results than watching a video.

Teachers Give Feedback on the Spot

Have you ever tried to teach yourself something watching YouTube? I’d be surprised if anyone hasn’t in this day and age. You can easily find videos telling you how to change your sparkplugs, cook a goat cheese soufflé, or build a hovercraft using household items.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love the future.
With most of these projects, you’ll know if you’ve succeeded or failed: the car will start or it won’t, the hovercraft hovers or remains a simple craft, and the soufflé will at the very least resemble food or you’ll call Domino’s.

Music doesn’t work quite the same way though. Not everyone has a discerning enough ear to tell when they’ve got it. I’ve taught enough to know that even when a student tells me they’ve mastered a piece of music, more than likely they’re still way off. What’s worse is when a student holds their instrument in a way that could cause injury or plays with disadvantageous posture without knowing it because the YouTube video they learned from never told them.

The bottom line: receiving feedback is a cornerstone of learning, and it’s worth every penny to hear it from someone who knows what they’re doing.

Teachers Help You Practice as Wells as Play

We all know what the road to Carnegie Hall demands: practice, and loads of it. Believe it or not, there’s an extraordinarily thin line between practicing and simply playing. When my students can’t seem to grasp a piece after weeks of honest work, my first suspicion is that they’re not practicing it properly. We usually go over the piece and pick out the sections that need the most attention and come up with a better practicing routine. More often than not, this is how they end up making their biggest breakthroughs.

Yup, my ability to devise practice strategies is why they pay me the big bucks. There’s just one catch; I need to be able to hear and see you play to do it.

Teachers Are on a Mission to Make You Better   

If you’ve ever known a music teacher, you’ve probably realized that we’re determined individuals. When one of our students struggles with something, we’ve been there before. We’ll pour over our own years of experience and dig up every trick we’ve ever learned until you start to get it. We never say die and we don’t except excuses. Think PianoMaster1337 (whose name I have made up for legal purposes) will offer the same level of perseverance and dedication? Me neither.

Teachers Teach more than Just Notes

Every good teacher I’ve ever worked with has their own version of this maxim, so here’s mine: Music is not a melody, a series of chords, or a smattering of dots and lines on piece of paper. Music is how we shape these things, how we express what otherwise could never be expressed by such simple means.

Through all my years of instruction, this was the most essential thing I ever learned. Don’t get me wrong, my teachers had to work hard to teach me the basics too; I had to have my sense of rhythm forcibly beaten into my skull with a metronome. But it was worth it because instead of only learning to play music, I learned how to play musically, and that’s something no video can teach.

Jason Campbell is a voice coach and piano teacher who blogs about all things music at IvoryManBook a lesson with him on The ZOEN or follow him on Facebook.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

5 Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Musical Life

Without consulting a single study about the benefits of playing a musical instrument, it’s easy to point to several reasons to pick up a musical habit. Self discipline and self confidence are clear benefits. Happiness and a sense of accomplishment also top the list. Then, of course, there’s the cool factor. So what are some less obvious benefits of music? We waded through a bunch of studies for you and here are our favorites:

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Believe it or not, playing music can help you age gracefully. Playing music increases human growth hormone (HgH) production among active older Americans. For those needing a HgH refresher, HgH is a peptide hormone that stimulates growth, cell reproduction and regeneration in humans. The findings of a University of Miami study revealed that the test group who took group keyboard lessons showed significantly higher levels of HgH than the control group people who did not make music. Musical activity throughout life has many conginitive benefits. According to researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, PhD "since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older."

Ever felt like you wanted to smash your guitar...until you started playing it? Come to find out, playing music was found to lower the heart rates and regulate the blood pressure of patients who had undergone surgery (Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Neb., and St. Mary's Hospital in Mequon, Wis.). In fact, there’s an entire therapeutic method that employs music to identify and treat the triggers of anger. Anger  Management Music therapy helps people channel their anger in a positive and productive manner. Good to know...

Killed off a few brain cells in your day? Take up playing a musical instrument and earn a few of those IQ points back! According to Lutz Jäncke, a psychologist at the University of Zurich: "Learning to play a musical instrument has definite benefits and can increase IQ by seven points, in both children and adults...We found that even in people over the age of 65 after four or five months of playing a instrument 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.” Live hard? Play (music) hard.

Making music can help stave off job burnout and improve your mood. In a study of nursing students at Allegany College of Maryland, there was a 28.1% improvement in total mood disturbance among those involved in recreational music-making. According to a study published in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, there was a 62% improvement  in mood 6 weeks after the completion of the music-making program consisting of one hour per week! So, if your job is bringing you down, look to music for help.

Technical skills are often associated with high earnings....and so are musical training and mastery of the arts! It should come as no surprise that, according to a CA study, 75% of Silicon Valley CEO's are trained musicians. The very best engineers and technical designers in the Silicon Valley industry are, nearly without exception, practicing musicians, reported Grant Venerable in "The Paradox of the Silicon Savior". How could this be? Musicians left and right brains communicate differently than those who have not been musically trained. Creative thinkers are a valuable commodity.

The moral of this story? If you’re a practicing musician, stick with it! If you’ve always wanted to play an instrument, find a teacher and get crackin’. Regardless of which study you consult, the verdict is nearly always the same: playing a musical instrument will improve your quality of life. Period.