The Benefits of Reading Music by Stephanie Edwards

I love exploring the many fascinating benefits of music.

Today I will zero in on one vital skill my piano teachers taught methe ability to read music accurately and fluently.

If you were to ask me about my favorite hobbies, playing piano and reading books would be at the top of my list.  In many ways, these two hobbies are interrelated. Growing up, I loved pulling out random piano books and reading through them. To me, it was just like reading a novel; I met fascinating characters, visited exotic places, learned new things (musical patterns/gestures), and explored different genres.  I didn’t realize that this reading hobby was actually sight-reading practice

Sight-reading practice didn’t just prepare me for music opportunities like gigs, accompanying, and collaborative engagements; it also (unbeknownst to me) augmented my reading ability in general.  Brian Wandell, a Stanford University professor, conducted a study between reading fluency and students’ music education.  He discovered that children who read music fluently also read books and stories more fluently in class.

Reading music is not just a visual exercise!  It involves intellectual, kinesthetic, spatial, auditory, and emotional processes. 

Just think about all that reading music entails! We visually take in the information on the page. Our brain processes the patterns from multiple staffs.  Simultaneously, our fingers play notes, chords, complex rhythms, specific articulations, and dynamics (louds/softs).  Our feet coordinate pedaling.  We do all these things concurrently, and on top of that, we also strive to play musically, with appropriate expression and feeling for that particular piece. 

Phew!  Reading music is a lot more complicated than reading a book!  No wonder Wandell found a significant correlation between music training and reading ability.  The connecting axons between the left and right brain hemispheres (corpus callosum) were “more diffuse in participants who were good readers… [additionally,] musicians who had music training before age seven have larger corpus callosums than do nonmusicians.” [1] In other words, Music education directly helps to develop those areas of the brain that correspond with reading ability and fluency.

A few tips to encourage music reading:

  • Acquire a collection of fun piano books and sheet music.  These should be easier than your student’s lesson repertoire. 
  • Visit Music & Arts or Foxes Music Company with your student.  There are countless pop, Broadway, jazz, and classics books at every level, from early beginner to advanced.
  • Slip in a new piano book at Christmas, birthdays, and other special occasions.
  • If you play piano, play simple duets or sight read with your child every once in a while (one of you plays the right hand and one of you plays the left hand)!
  • Ask your student’s teacher for suggestions if you need help finding age and level-appropriate music.
  • Don’t forget that Amazon has an amazing library of music for you to search and make your own music purchases.  Purchasing additional music that interests your child can be done from your own home and favorite device.  

Best wishes as you continue to encourage and support your pianist.  Thank you for prioritizing music in your family.

Stephanie Edwards

[1] Cole, Katie. “Professional Notes: Brain-Based-Research Music Advocacy.” Music Educators Journal 98, no. 1 (September 2011): 26. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 4, 2016).


Music’s Unique Affect by Anna Futoran

Looking at the vast array of the benefits of music, I’d like to highlight an amazing TED-ED entitled, “How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain.” (TED-ED is similar to a TED Talk, but with animation!)  Feel free to show this video to your student musician!  It’s fascinating!  It just might make you second-guess your educational priorities.

Music is much more than a pleasant activity for children and adults alike! 

Listening to music engages the brain in a complex analysis of the components of the music – the melody, harmony, and rhythm – and also the cohesive whole. 

Playing an instrument takes it to an entirely new level! 

There is A LOT going on in the brain when playing an instrument!  Here are just a few of things happening when your child plays the piano:

Not only are the visual, auditory, and motor areas of the brain involved in playing, your child’s fine motor skills cause both hemispheres of the brain to fire, allowing the analytical left side to “talk” to the creative right side. This creates stronger connections between the two sides of the brain.

Interestingly, this kind of communication across brain hemispheres does not apply equally to other artistic pursuits – the elevated level of activity and interconnection in the brain is specifically linked to music making

Music has such a powerful impact on the brain – the TED-ED video describes music making as a full-body workout for the brain!

How does this apply to efficient practicing?

Dedicated music practice works the brain. Because of this, sometimes our brains get tired and go into auto-pilot! I’ve seen this tendency in my own practice and also in my students. To better engage in the mindful, concentrated focus that piano practice demands, it can be helpful to take a quick break between repertoire pieces to walk around the room and also take a few deep breaths

A little movement and oxygen break in the middle of a practice session can help any musician more effectively tackle that next section of music!  

All in all, the TED-ED will give you more information on these things. It is less than five minutes long, but jam-packed with fascinating information. I hope you and your child enjoy it as much as I did!

It is so exciting to discover more about how our brains have been made by our Creator to respond to and engage with music and music making.  

Best regards,