What is the most important factor in how fast a piano student will improve? Is it some kind of inborn talent? Superior hand-eye coordination? Intelligence? An excellent ability to hear musical pitches? Music teachers and parents know that some piano students progress faster than others. What makes the difference?
Professor Gary McPherson at the University of Melbourne spent years trying to answer this question, following a set of over a hundred music students from when they began music lessons until they reached adulthood. His amazing discovery? Of all the different possibilities he tested, what stood out the most was a choice that each child made, often before they even started music lessons:
How long were they planning to play?
When the children in the study were divided into three groups, those who planned to play for only about a year, those who planned to play for a few years, and those who planned to keep playing throughout life, a stunning pattern emerged. For children who only planned to play for a year, their performance level improved very little. Whether they practiced only twenty minutes a week or ninety minutes a week, it made hardly any difference. The children who wanted to play for a few years did better, with increased practice time showing increased improvement. But the children who planned to play their instrument throughout their life topped everyone. In fact, the students with a life-time commitment to music who practiced only twenty minutes a week did significantly better than students with a one-year commitment who practiced for ninety or more minutes a week! Better yet, studentswho envisioned themselves playing their instrument for life and combined that with ninety minutes of practice per week far outperformed students in every other category.
It turns out that helping your child to see themselves playing the piano throughout their life can be more important to their progress than insisting they practice for an extra fifteen minutes a day! Next week we’ll talk about some ways to inspire a vision of life-long music-making in your child.
You can read more about this study in the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.