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About Beth Bruno...
Beth is a freelance writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience in mental health and education. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a B.A. in Psychology in 1966. She continued her education at Harvard University (Ed.M. in Educaton, 1967) and Yeshiva University (M.A. in Clinical Psychology, 1976). Beth has served as Chair of the Psychology Department for the Special Children's Center in Ithaca, New York, and has worked as Adjunct Instructor at Tompkins-Cortland Community College.

Beth Bruno has always been "fascinated by people--their motives, emotions, what makes them tick." Her ability to "read people and connect with them" is a true gift. As a school psychologist, her philosophy is not to solve problems for people, but rather "to help people discover their inner resources and create ways to help themselves." "Some people fear the unknown," she says. "I welcome it, because I can usually make the best of whatever happens." Beth encourages questions from young people, adults, educators and professionals. She will do her best to answer each question personally and in a timely manner. She can be reached via email at

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Schoolhouse Views
by Beth Bruno

Time for Music Lessons
“Music lessons appear to strengthen the links between brain neurons and build new neural bridges needed for spatial reasoning. A study compared 19 preschoolers who took music lessons and 14 classmates enrolled in no special music programs. After eight months, the study found: A 46% boost in spatial IQs for the young musicians, and a 6% improvement for children not taught music. Our studies also show that making music appears to be much more beneficial to cognitive development than passive listening.”
--- Frances Rauscher, Psychologist, University of California

Parents appreciate the importance of music and the arts, as shown by their interest in augmenting school programs with private lessons for their children. But how early should a child begin music lessons? What instrument is best for beginners? How do parents know if their children have talent? Jeff McGill, Director of The Music Learning Center (MLC) in Danbury, CT, answers these and other common parent questions in the following interview.

Bruno:  At what age should a child begin taking music lessons? How do you help a student select a first instrument?
McGill: Students may begin studying piano or violin as early as age four. Each of these instruments offers particular strengths as a student’s first instrument. The piano offers an excellent introduction to many musical concepts that could later be applied to other instruments. The piano may also offer a young student a somewhat easier experience than other instruments in that the tone can be produced more readily than is the case with woodwinds, brass or strings.

Violin study offers some of the challenges in producing a tone properly through fingering position and bowing techniques, but is generally regarded as an instrument that can more readily develop the students’ ear, precisely because of those challenges. Between the two I would allow a younger student to choose with his or her parent, basing the decision on which instrument appeals to the student more.

Bruno: Is it best to begin with group or individual lessons?
McGill: The choice of group versus private lessons has a lot to do with the individual child. Group classes offer a dynamic learning environment where students are not only playing on their own instrument but are also participating in musical games, ensemble playing, and a variety of other activities that cannot be duplicated within a private lesson. In particular, there is a clear advantage in the development of rhythmic skills for students who study in group lessons. There is the added benefit of learning about teamwork and other social skills in this format. For students who do better on a one-to-one basis, private lessons may be the best choice. After providing information about the benefits of each approach, we recommend that parents base their decision on what they have seen work best for their child in other learning environments.

Bruno: Does your school teach music theory, improvisation or other skills needed for a student to learn to play by ear?
McGill: Music theory instruction is a component in each student’s lesson curriculum. Most teaching methods and lesson books cover relevant theory topics with each piece. Ear training is another topic that is included, whether through simple “singing along” with lesson pieces, or in a more detailed program for students studying jazz or voice. Many teachers include improvisation instruction, and a program of jazz study may be pursued for most instruments as well.

Bruno:  How do you evaluate a child’s potential to benefit from music lessons?
McGill: Our philosophy is that every child, or adult, may benefit from studying music, regardless of the degree of natural ability that exists. Realistic goals need to be set for each individual, but most of all, we try to encourage students to enjoy and become a part of the process of learning music.

“Recently released 1995 SAT results indicate that students who take music courses average more than 20 points higher than the mean in both verbal and math, and more than 50 points higher than students who don’t take any arts courses.

The American Medical Association also gives us a rather remarkable statistic: Of all students applying for medical school, on average do you know which student major was accepted more often than all others – including math, science and biochemistry? Music.”
--- Michael Greene, President of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences

Beth Bruno
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