Are you good at tuning into the smallest nuances of human speech and its emotional variations? It could be because you started piano lessons at age seven. Neuroscientist Nina Kraus believes musical experience not only sharpens your hearing for music but also alerts you to emotions expressed in speech, such as anger or sadness. The more time (both daily and across the years) a musician has practiced the more obvious the effect. This has hopeful implications for the treatment of mental disorders related to decreased emotional connectivity, such as autism. Maybe we will soon see music lessons especially tailored for autistic children.
In Venezuela, musician Jose Abreu tailors music education to improve the lives of 300,000 poor children, one lesson at a time. Children admitted to his program sign up to practice an orchestral instrument every day they eat, for many hours. They learn classical music from expert musicians and each other. Eventually they join the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra, travel the world and gain a discipline that will forever lift them from poverty. The current conductor of the
Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, is a graduate of Abreu's program.
You don't have to be mentally disabled or living in the poorest neighborhood of Caracas to benefit from the practice of music. Yet it is rare for non-musically trained adults to seriously take up the discipline of music. We somehow find time to hit the gym and even finish a New York Times crossword puzzle now and then.
Could it be our society is so focused on expertise and competence, that it is difficult for adults to start something, they will be terrible at for a few years, from scratch?