By Alexandra Few
Learning how to play an instrument can make such a large impact in one’s life. However, anyone familiar with instruments knows just how important it is to regularly practice, and this is where music lessons come in. There are many resources one can access to acquire lessons, whether it is through traditional in-person lessons, or through an online method. Which one is more effective?
This cannot be easily answered, as it is very dependent on the individual and their lifestyle. Considering information from both sides is an important first step in making this decision and will make it easier to assess which method best fits one’s needs and goals better.
Benefits of Learning and Playing an Instrument
Music can not only improve your mood but research has found that playing an instrument can create numerous benefits for one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Research conducted by Baycrest in Toronto, Ontario, found that learning to play a sound on an instrument, can actually alter the brain waves that are responsible for one’s listening and hearing skills over a short time frame. Additionally, a study found that when comparing brain structure between musicians and non-musicians of the same age and sex, the corpus callosum was significantly larger in musicians. The corpus callosum is a thick band of nerve fibers that connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain allowing for communication between them. It also holds the largest amount of white matter in the brain, and this is what influences how the brain learns and functions.
Learning an instrument also improves motor control function. A literature review published in Montreal, Quebec, found that timing, sequencing, and spatial organization of movement are three basic motor control functions that musicians utilize. Timing, which is controlled by a network of regions that control specific parameters of movement, is extremely important for a musician to have and is vital to play music correctly. Sequencing, such as finger sequences for key presses, is an additional motor skill that musicians have come to acquire. Parts of the brain, such as the basal ganglia the cerebellum , and the premotor and prefrontal cortices have been connected to the production and learning of motor sequences. Spatial organization is required for precise movements, which is evident just by looking at a musician perform. Acquiring highly-developed motor skills is extremely beneficial and learning an instrument is one way to achieve this.
There is also a lot of evidence on children’s brain development and learning an instrument. A longitudinal study found structural brain changes after only 15 months of musical training in early childhood, and the results were correlated with improvements in musically relevant motor and auditory skills.
“These findings indicate that plasticity can occur in brain regions that control primary functions important for playing a musical instrument, and also in brain regions that might be responsible for the kind of multimodal sensorimotor integration likely to underlie instrumental learning”.
There are many long-lasting benefits for musicians who started as children. A 2013 study had 44 older adults divide up into three group, the first group being those with no training as children, the second group consisting of those who had a bit of training, and the third were those who had received moderate levels of training (4-14 years). After playing recordings of complex speech sounds to the participants and measured the timing of neural responses, it was found that participants who had received moderate amounts of musical training, exhibited neural response rates at a faster paced compared to the other groups. This suggests that even a small amount of training in childhood, can still demonstrate positive health effects in later years.
As it is apparent with the above studies, learning an instrument has a world of benefits. For more information on how learning a language can affect the brain, check out this video.
© TED-Ed | YouTube
Below are a variety of in-person and online resources that one can access to determine which method is right for you.
Traditional “In-Person” Lessons
When one thinks of music lessons, this method usually comes to mind. The more “traditional” type of music lessons has been proven effective in many instances and can be beneficial for a variety of individuals.
ABC Academy of Music
The ABC Academy of Music, located in various parts of Toronto, offers a variety of group and private music lessons. With qualified and experienced instructors, the ABC Academy of Music provides lessons on various instruments, such as guitar, brass, cello, piano, strings, woodwinds, choir, singing/vocal, bassoon, drums, and music theory.
Barnaby Kerekes, the director of ABC Academy of Music, discussed some of the key factors as to why having an “in-person” instructor is key when learning an instrument. Barnaby says, “when you are an expert in an instrument, regardless of the instrument, you need a 360-degree view of your students…there is a number of reasons for this, primarily posture is very important… it is very easy to do these things wrong and no instrument is built really to be ergonomic to the human body, so in order to make sure people aren’t actually hurting themselves in the short, medium, and long-term, it’s very important to be able to see them…and [you can’t do that] unless you’re physically around them or have a 360 degree view of what they’re doing”.
In regards to the limitations of online music lessons, Barnaby says, “You have to make sure you’re holding it well. Something like a piano, you need to have a very good view of the person’s hands [and] how do you have a good view of a person’s hands if you don’t have a fixed camera?” He goes on to say, “Not only do you have to have a broad 360 view, you need specific views of the small details. If you’re playing something like trombone, you really have to observe the person’s mouth on the instrument piece... that’s incredibly important because that’s where the sound production has its root… so if that’s not working and you don’t get that set up properly, then it’s a real problem”.
Barnaby warns that “during an online lesson, it’s very hard to get an accurate reproduction of the full range of sounds… In terms of the actual output of sound, the ability to hear the nuances of sound coming out of an instrument is compressed over the internet [and this] is really problematic”.
Barnaby does think that online music lessons can be beneficial in some cases, but more so in remote communities where access to education and good service is extremely limited. However, Barnaby describes that the fundamental message is, “when you can get the real thing, it’s better to go see a specialist in person… when and where there are specialists, they are always the primary choice and are the people that deserve first consideration”.
Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music
The Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music (TIFEM) located at 821 Queen St. West has studio rentals and private, group, and group drop-in classes for a variety of instruments and for all ages and levels. Group drop-in classes include Ableton live class, ukulele class, and a kids class from ages 2-5. The private and group lessons are offered for a variety of instruments, many of which they supply themselves, including banjo, cello, clarinet, digital music, drums, flute, guitar, piano, saxophone, violin, and much more.
Howard Goldbach, musician at the Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music believes that “it is important to discover what works best for you. If you are having success with a style of learning than I say keep it up. I have found, personally, that I benefit from all styles of learning, but I love the energy you get when you are in the same space with the instructor”. When asked what the benefits are of going to music lessons and having an instructor, Howard compares it to going to the gym and exercising. He says, “a lot of people buy expensive machines for their homes but never really use them…. the energy of going to a place devoted to learning music has built-in momentum”.
It is evident that there are benefits to having in-person music lessons, such as allowing for physical guidance, ensuring proper sound and placement, and it provides motivation to practice.
Online Music Lessons
There are a variety of online music lesson available that one can access for music lessons. With a click of your mouse, you can start learning how to play an instrument in an instant.
ArtistWorks has hand-selected online music teachers that provide anyone, anywhere in the world, interactive access to music lessons. Patricia Butler, CEO of ArtistWorks describes that their music student are “looking for expert instruction and at ArtistWorks they get access to all the teachings of a master musician who has chosen to pass on their art through teaching. They learn from hundreds of sequential videos that breakdown important concepts into small “digestible” bites that serve as building blocks toward mastery of the instrument. Students can watch the videos as often as they want, at whatever time of the day they want and can loop specific sections that they need to isolate and review”.
Patricia also describes their “Video Exchange Learning®” resource. She states, “We have three patents on this industry-unique methodology of instruction. Students use our platform to upload a video of themselves playing and that video rests in the teacher’s queue until he’s/she’s answering videos in the next few days. The teacher responds to the student with a video of instruction and guidance specific to that student. Our technology keeps the student’s video and the teacher’s video response paired together as a Video Exchange that is now shown to all of the online music learners. Now the teacher’s time is leveraged because they know they are speaking to hundreds or thousands of students watching the Video Exchange. The students can also now not only see that “a-ha” moment of breakthrough for the student but they can apply the instruction to their own playing”.
In regards to the quality of lessons offered at ArtistWorks, Patricia says, “We built ArtistWorks the way we did because our Founder experienced debilitating inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in personal lessons whether face to face or over video chat. In person lessons meet the needs of many students who are able to find a local teacher that plays better than they do, so they can progress with that instruction. However, if someone wants to study from a master musician like those that teach online at ArtistWorks, they have to find that person and be able to get affordable access/lessons and they have to sync their schedule and/or time zone. When someone is studying from a professional, acclaimed musician it can be intimidating especially in person. Many questions don’t get asked and the student’s progress slows, sometimes to the point of abandoning the instrument. For the teacher, they can only take on so many students because there are only 24 hours in a day. The centuries old tradition of one-to-one teaching doesn’t scale in any way. Therefore, the reach of each teacher is quite limited and access to them is limited to the privileged few”.
Patricia states, “We’re really cracked the code on learning a performance style skill online. We’ve scaled, modernized and virtualized an old tradition of in person, one on one instruction - and ours is superior. Students want to have the curriculum at their fingertips so they can go back and review when they need to. You can’t do that with in person lessons, there is no curriculum. Our teachers can now reach thousands of students rather than 20. We’ve transformed the way people learn music online”.
Lessonface is an online music lesson service that connects students to music teachers with face-to-face online live sessions. Claire Cunningham, co-founder and CEO of Lessonface, states that “We have an extremely diverse set of students in terms of age, geography, skill level, instrument. Most of our audience is North American, but we do have students and teachers all around the world. We see a lot of interest from folks who are in rural areas that might have fewer teachers in driving distance, and older students who might have mobility issues. But we also attract students in metropolitan areas who don't want to add any more time to their commute, and busy families who like being able to have a lesson while they are in the background do other things, rather than perhaps waiting in the car or in a waiting room at a lessons studio”.
In regards to the lessons that Lessonface facilities, Claire says, “In a lot of ways, the lessons we enable are really a lot like offline lessons - they typically happen on a regular weekly schedule, and they start by identifying the students' goals, and then proceeding on a course of study of learning songs and exercises that will lead to the achievement of those goals. Sometimes students take lessons with multiple teachers, which may not be typical for offline lessons, but more often a student (or parent) chooses one teacher and then sticks with that teacher… In a lot of ways, the online lessons are much like traditional music lessons, just without all of the commuting”.
Willem Moolenbeek, a Canadian saxophonist and educator who has been using Lessonface for about two years, says that online music lessons “provide the opportunity to study from anywhere with a large pool of experienced players and teachers, with specific areas of expertise. There are no travel expenses nor travel time. From the parents' perspective this can be a huge benefit. I have students halfway around the globe. I have also taught lessons when I was travelling. A few of the students from my home studio now often request to see me online for convenience. Once they try it, they like it”
"I find that it can be more efficient in that there is no set up or break down time. There tends to be little banter and conversation and more time playing and working on the details of playing. As soon as the connection is made, the lesson can start”. -Willem Moolenbeek
Claire says, “At Lessonface we aim to offer a fair and practical online lessons platform for teachers who are looking to move their teaching studios online, and expand their reach. Details and instructions for application can be found here and because it is that time of year - we also offer gift certificates.
Live Music Tutor
Live Music Tutor is an online resource that offers music lessons for a variety of instruments. Ted Gee, the President and CEO of Live Music Tutor, describes it as, “a safe, convenient, affordable solution to traditional music lessons in a studio or other inconvenient location that may or may not have the quality of instructors one is seeking. This is especially true in rural or remote areas where quality instructors are not available or the costs for private lessons are expensive. We provide live, online music lessons to individuals, groups, schools, and governments in over 221 different countries 24/7. We have over 2000 vetted instructors to choose from whether the interest is learning a song or two or even an entire curriculum- we have tailored solutions for all. Our instructors offer solutions for beginners to advanced music professionals, different genres of music and in many different languages. In addition to music lessons, we provide a full offering of instruments and accessories for purchase or rent/lease for a true one stop shop experience. There are also many features built in the system that will allow for continuous learning and engagement”.
When asked if this service differs at all with “traditional” music lessons, Ted says, “We have delivered almost 30k lessons globally and to many school districts across the
US. The feedback and testimonials have been consistently that we provide an excellent experience and the quality has exceeded the expectations of many. We built our own
technology and we have not had quality issues, such as latency or bandwidth, like many other technologies in the marketplace such as Skype or FaceTime”.
Ted states that Live Music Tutor is a great resource, as “cost of private lessons continues to increase and the quality of local instructors often decreases or is not existent, we provide access for anyone that has a high-speed Internet connection”. It is also beneficial to parents, as Ted states, “In general, parents don’t have to worry about the inconvenience of travel and the gas prices, the high cost, selection/availability of instructors, or any opportunities for unsupervised inappropriate behavior that might happen in traditional lessons”.
As you can see, there are many resources available for either in-person or online music lessons. Depending on your preferences, music lessons can be readily available to you and offer a wide range of benefits. Which method will you choose?
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