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How Playing the Piano Might Help You Ward Off Symptoms of Dementia

Online Lessons with Diana Mascari
Diana Mascari-Piano Teacher for Adults

It is a known fact that music has an impact on the health of your brain. One of my long-time students has been keeping his eye the trends this research has taken. Recently, he found an article by Arielle Weg, called The Creative Habit That Might Ward Off Dementia Symptoms, Even if You Start Later in Life This got me thinking more deeply about the subject, and so I'd like to share some insights and tips with you that could have a major impact on your life

What Parts of Your Anatomy Are Involved in Playing the Piano? 1. The Fingers moving the ten fingers on the keyboard require dexterity and motor skills

2. The Hands

not only does each hand have to support the fingers with strength and agility, but to play the piano you need to be able to coordinate the playing of both hands each with a different part.

3. The Feet

For those of you who have watched me perform, you will probably think that I am referring to foot-tapping. While this is helpful for keeping the beat, the most important use of the feet involve the use of the pedals. The one on the right (the damper pedal) for sustaining notes as well as the one on the left (una corda or soft pedal) for helping you play music at a softer volume. For an in-depth article and video about the pedals, see my article: How Do You Know When To Press the Pedals On the Piano?

4. The Ears

Although Beethoven wrote and conducted his famous 9th Symphony when he was deaf, most of us do not have that level of skill. My composition teacher, at Boston University, Lukas Foss was able to look at a score and "hear it". He did this so well, that once a professor gave him 100 musical scores to review for a competition. He was able to do this because his musical ear was so well-trained that he could hear the music and assess its quality and content. Beyond these an other exceptional musicians, most of us need to actually HEAR what we are playing on the piano. The more accurate our hearing is the better we can avoid mistakes and infuse our performances with vitality and expression.

5. The Eyes

Needless to say, unless you have perfect pitch (and even then you might still need your eyes to read music), most of us, whether we play classical music, jazz, show tunes, pop music, church hymns or rock'n roll need to READ the music. In addition to this, there are times when we really need to look at our hands while we play so we know where they should be on the keyboard.

6. The Brain

In reality, the 5 parts of our anatomy need brainpower to work. But that's just the beginning of the story. Your brain has to process a great deal when you play the piano. Reading the music requires that the brain translate the black dots that are on the page into sounds created by the keys. But that's not all, there are expression marks (what type of feeling should the music have), articulation marks (staccato-detached, legato-smooth and connected, marcato-accented, and more), dynamic marks (loud, soft, crescendo, diminuendo, etc), tempo marks (Adagio, Vivace and more plus metronome marks for speed). There are several more to add, but I think you get the idea. An example of keeping the brain sharp is Chopin's Nocturne in B Major. As one of my student puts it: "no note in the music is what you play on the piano, this is frustrating, but it sure sure helps keep the mind sharp to prevent dementia."

Many of the notes such as B# which is C on the piano, Fx (F double-sharp) is G, etc. require that you think clearly and accurately even more than usual when playing this piece.

All of the above relate to those who read the "black dots", but what about those who use lead sheets and/or play jazz? We need to quick process the chord relationships (ii-V-I patterns) and the actual notes in each chord and their inversions.

One of my former students (a professional musician) took lessons from me for several months to expand upon her wealth of knowledge. Recently, we were in touch on the occasion of her 85th birthday. She told me that she is still teaching piano, playing in church, and more as well giving an occasion lecture on music. This is a true testament to the power of music

In the article mentioned above, Jennie L. Dorris is quotes as saying: "Playing music works multiple areas of your brain at the same time. You are coordinating your motor movements with the sounds you hear and the visual patterns of the written music, Music has been called a ‘full-body workout’ for the brain, and we think that it’s unique because it calls on multiple systems at once.”

I think Ms. Dorris has summed up how unique playing music is and why it keeps our brains so sharp.

The Joy of Music

One of the greatest benefits of playing the piano, singing, or playing another instrument is that it gives us joy. When we make music (listening to music is also beneficial, but MAKING music ourselves has a much greater impact on mental health.

I was the Music Director for a multi-cultural Presbyterian Church west of Boston for 41 years. The joy of congregational singing was something experienced every Sunday. On Easter Sunday, 3/4 of the congregation came up to sing the Hallelujah Chorus which brought down the rafters. I've been performing for close to 50 years, and my current audience of senior citizens at our monthly Musicale respond with great enthusiasm and excitement to my jazz piano selections as well as to those of other performers.

Finally, I am happy to report that after more than 45 years of teaching, my students range in age from 11 to 81 with most of them over 60. Why?

Because they want to keep their brains sharp and their spirits high with the joy of music.

You can too! Take piano lessons, join a choir or community chorus, pick up your band instrument and sing up for the local concert band or orchestra.

Keep your mind sharp and ward off the symptoms of dementia.


About Diana Mascari

Online Lessons with Diana Mascari
Diana Mascari-Piano Teacher for Adults

Diana Mascari has taught piano to hundreds of adults and children for more than 45 years. She holds two Masters of Music degrees from New England Conservatory and taught keyboard harmony to music majors while pursuing doctoral studies at Boston University. She was the music director for a multi-cultural Presbyterian Church for four decades, and her jazz and classical compositions have been performed worldwide. Diana has been performing for more than 50 years. From solo jazz piano to commercial groups touring the East Coast to leading her own jazz ensembles at colleges and jazz clubs throughout New England.

To get Her FREE Course: Song Playing Starter Kit for Pianists, click here

To schedule your FREE 30 Minute Piano Lesson Consultation on Zoom, click here.



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