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Playing Music is THE KEY to Success!


Recently, my partner and I had the joy of visiting with our son’s outstanding teachers and learning a bit about their eighth-grade curricula. We quickly scooted from classroom to classroom eager to capture every minute of the brief seven minutes scheduled with each teacher. Towards the end of our evening tour, we visited Morgan’s music classroom and met with his teacher Josh Davis.

We feel so fortunate that our son, Morgan, has an entire class devoted to learning and playing music at Sussex, as well as an opportunity after school to hone his skills and play with other young music enthusiasts.

At age seven, Morgan’s innate talent for playing the drums was discovered at Ravenwood’s Music in Nature Camp. The amazing Ravenwood counselor, Don Caverly, recognized Morgan’s gift and shifted Morgan from the Strings to the Sticks, and from that time to this day has been giving Morgan ongoing private instruction. Over the years, it has been such a joy to witness Morgan learn how to read music and develop his percussion skills. I’m always so impressed by how easy it is for him to find the exact combination of beats within the rhythm of a song, as his hands tap it out on his knees. Something that has never come as easy for me.

When Morgan transferred to Sussex, he joined Josh’s after school Blues Ensemble and the Pop Ensemble and performed in four live performances over the course of last year. This year, Morgan is expanding his music repertoire by learning to play the bass in Josh’s Blues Ensemble, while continuing to play the drums in the Pop Rock Ensemble.

On Back-to-School Night, Josh squeezed in a few minutes of a pretty mind-blowing TED-Ed

video entitled, “How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain”. This video describes what is happening in our brains when we tune into and create music, and it was more than I ever imagined.

The video showed scientific evidence for how multiple areas of the brain light up when we listen to music, but when we play music “the backyard fireworks become a jubilee” with

neurons firing throughout every area of our brains. “It’s like a full body work out for the brain, involving the visual, auditory and motor cortices all at once. And as with any work out, disciplined structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions, allowing us to practice those strengths in other activities in our lives.” The video goes on to explain that this happens because playing music strengthens fine motor skills which are controlled in both hemispheres of the brain. If I have it right, it engages the left hemisphere as it brings linguistic and mathematical precision to our music playing, while simultaneously engaging the right hemisphere that excels in generating creative content. For these reasons, playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity of the brain’s corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres, allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. The video theorizes that this may allow musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively in both academic and social settings. Moreover, because making music also involves crafting and understanding its emotional content and message, musicians often have higher levels of executive function, a category of interlinked tasks that include planning, strategizing and attention to detail, and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects. Furthermore, this ability has an impact on how our memory systems work, and research has shown that musicians exhibit enhanced memory functions, creating, storing and retrieving memories more quickly and efficiently than others.

Although Morgan often struggles to focus and follow directions in class, I can see his focus become razor sharp when picking up a beat in a song or creating a beat on his own. Now I know why! This video gave me an understanding of what is going on when Morgan gets into the zone of his music. When he is in flow with music, he is actually priming his brain to do its best not only in music but also in math, science, language, art and other classes, as well as on the court or field. Now I know that beyond bringing Morgan such joy, Morgan’s love of music is actually his key to success!

With this in mind, I encourage all parents to introduce their children to music and take

advantage of the many special music instruction offerings Sussex provides. Who knows what

potentials will be unlocked in our children with the key of learning and playing music?

TED. (2014, July 22). How playing an instrument benefits your brain | Anita Collins [Video].


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