Category Archives: Education

Music and the brain

Piano music raising the bar at elementary school

Via CBS News

These days, as Michelle Miller is about to show us. thousands of elementary school students are hitting all the right notes:

The Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School sits in a New Orleans neighborhood stressed by violence, poverty and the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina. But don’t tell that to the music teacher.

“Ooh, everybody has such a beautiful smile this morning! Good Morning!”

Pat Sylvain-Little’s music class is a world apart. And she says there’s a lot more going on here than just a piano lesson.

“It’s something about the keyboard,” Sylvain-Little told Miller. “You have so many things you have to do at once. You’re playing with two hands. You’re trying to read the music. You’re trying to count the rhythms, all at the same time. And what researchers have found is that it sparks the brain.”

Sparking the brain of a child is what motivated Lisha Lercari to create this course that’s now being taught in 14 schools in New Orleans, and 130 in New York City.

Lercari is a music teacher on a mission.

“I think children need to read music,” Lercari said. “I want to raise the bar high for them. I want them to be thinking beings while they’re playing and not just play it. It’s making it a process of thinking about it. It’s a process of using their brains.”

The education program Music and the Brain aims to instruct young people far beyond the rudiments of music.

CBS News

In 1996, Lercari read a Newsweek cover story about children’s brains and how they develop; how exposure to music rewires neural circuits; how, in one experiment, music lessons improved the abstract reasoning of preschoolers.

She then spoke to scientists and researchers, and asked herself: How could she translate what was happening in laboratories back into the real world?

Miller asked, “Why is this necessary?”

“It’s necessary because children don’t have music in their lives,” Lercari replied. “But it’s also necessary because of what it does in other areas of education. We have seen their literacy improve, we’ve seen their language skills in other ways improve. Music sticks. It enhances memory skills. It helps with attention. It helps them focus.”

Decades of budget cutbacks had led to the gutting of art and music classes, so Lercari got funding from various foundations, devised her own program, and called it “Music and the Brain.”

“You’re doing it. Very good job! I love it. You’re doing a great job. Keep up that singing!”

At PS 71 in Queens, New York, Claire McIntire has been teaching the course for 12 years, mostly to kindergarteners and first- and second-graders.

“I don’t want to be a music teacher where it’s taught like ‘drill and skill,’” she told Miller. “Like, ‘Let’s go. You gotta do it again! Again!’ and make it boring.

“When the kids come in the room, I want them to walk in with a smile. I want them to leave with a smile. I want them to feel good about it. Mistakes happen every day, and I want them to know that’s OK.”

Most schools discover the program through word of mouth. And when they do, Lercari arrives bearing gifts: “Keyboard lab with piano, music stands, and keyboard stands and headphones, piano books, teachers’ manuals, theory papers, posters that go along with every page of every book, CDs that are instructional, and CDs that are for fun listening, and rhythm CDs as well.”

Here’s how it works: Students first sing the melodies — classical, world, folk and children’s songs.

Next, they learn the rhythms. Then, the notes. Along the way, teachers add the history, geography and languages associated with the music.

And finally, practice at the keyboard. One or two times a week, 30 to 45 minutes at a time.

Miller asked, “Can anybody teach this?”

“Yeah, if they’re willing to work at it!” Lercari laughed. “I would say the only people who can’t teach this are people who probably shouldn’t be teaching at all.”

Lercari is in constant contact with her music teachers. If a technique works in one classroom, she believes it will work in another. But in all the schools, the key is finding teachers who care as deeply as she does — teachers like Pat Sylvain-Little.

“Pat is one of the most beautiful teachers I’ve ever worked with,” Lercari said. “So many kids in New Orleans need a way out of ‘No Way.’ And she makes sure they find it. Nobody fails in her hands.

“I can tell you she saw every child every day. And we watched the ranking of this school go straight up. Her kids can do anything.”

Sylvain-Little says, if it weren’t for these classes, most of her students would never play the piano … let alone have one at home.

“Parents will say, ‘I didn’t even know my child was studying the piano,” she said. “I have some children that have told me, ‘I practice on the kitchen table.’ You know, they sing the letters and go through the music. And so a keyboard is wonderful, but if you don’t have it, it doesn’t stop you.”

Claire McIntire said, “A lot of the parents will come to me and they’ll say during parent-teacher conferences, they’ll ask me, ‘Miss McIntire, should I buy a keyboard?’ And I always tell them, ‘Listen, it’s better than video games. It’s better than watching TV. And your child really loves it. So why not?’”

Lercari plans to expand Music and the Brain into many more schools.

She’s ready for battle.

Read more here
Or find out about education programs here

Jordan Kitt’s hosts Teacher Workshop on Technology

This past Wednesday 7/13, Jordan Kitt’s Music was proud to host “Technology to Improve Student Motivation” featuring clinician Linda Christensen, Ph.D.

There was a great turnout from teachers looking to stay engaged with students during the summer months using modern technology to keep them practicing, even while on vacation.

Linda Christensen received her Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma, where she studied pedagogy with E.L. Lancaster and Jane Magrath. After over 20 years as a Professor of Music and Music Technology, she is now the Institutional Sales Director for Maryland/DC for Jordan Kitts Music in Rockville, Maryland. She is a frequent presenter for MTNA, NCKP, and many other national and international conferences.

To get on the mailing list for future education seminars, contact us at

Awadajin Pratt

Jordan Kitt’s hosts Awadajin Pratt at the Woodburn School for the Fine Arts

Students at the Woodburn School for the Fine & Communicative Arts received a special treat courtesy of Jordan Kitt’s Music and the Fairfax Symphony! On Thursday, April 28th, Jordan Kitt’s Music and the Fairfax Symphony partnered together to bring famed pianist Awadagin Pratt to give a special concert just for the students and the faculty of the innovative school.

“The Woodburn School has a wonderful mission of infusing the daily curriculum of their students with a healthy dose of the fine arts. Those in our field understand the importance the arts play in education and the role it plays in a student’s development. This matches our own commitment to music education and our vision of improving students lives through music. It was our privilege to support the Woodburn School and their students, and to see how Mr. Pratt’s performance has touched these children.”

Awadagin Pratt has been the subject of numerous articles in the national press, including Newsweek, People Magazine and New York Newsday. He was named one of the 50 Leaders of Tomorrow in Ebony Magazine’s special 50th anniversary issue and has been featured on National Public Radio’s Performance Today, St. Paul Sunday Morning and Weekend Edition. On television, Mr. Pratt has performed on the Today Show, Good Morning America and Sesame Street, been profiled on CBS Sunday Morning and was one of the featured soloists on PBS’s “Live from the Kennedy Center – A Salute to Slava.”

The piano Mr. Pratt performed on was a special Avant Grand by Yamaha and provided by Jordan Kitt’s Music. The instrument provides a concert level performance while being small enough to meet the size restrictions in most homes and schools. More information about the instrument is available here

Music makes you smarter…


Want your kids to be smarter and do better in school? Maybe you should buy them a guitar for Christmas or a set of drums, especially if they struggle with math.

Amy Allen at Harmony Road Music School in Paducah says the earlier you start exposing children to music the better. She even has classes for newborn babies and their moms which are a combination of music and massage.

Local 6 visited the class “Toddler Tunes” for those 18 months to 3 years of age.

“We have instruments to play. We give them pianos to play a little bit. We move and use a lot of scarves. Anything that gets them actively engaged with the music,” Allen says.

And because everything about music is related to language, timing and beat, kids are learning how to count, how to process language and how to listen.

“Children who are in pre-school music have better memory skills and it’s been show they’re emotionally better off, socially better off. It helps with listening,” says Allen.

Katie Enlow who took piano lessons from Allen when she was a little girl, now has her two sons enrolled in pre-school music classes. She thinks both of them talked very early because of it.

But let’s take it to a college level. A recent report on college bound seniors found those with music training scored 50 points higher on their verbal SAT, and 36 points higher in the math portion.

Allen says it’s partly due to the discipline required to learn an instrument, but studies show music itself also shapes the brain, forming neural connections that make us smarter.

Read More Here or find out about lessons at Jordan Kitt’s Music here

This is what singing slime mold sounds like

When the term “slime mold” comes up in a non-scientific context, it’s usually meant as an insult that combines two disgusting-sounding words into one powerful put-down. But people might change their view of this organism if they learned it has a beautiful singing voice.

Artist Leslie Garcia of Tijuana, Mexico, captured the sounds of a slime mold called Physarum polycephalum, a microorganism found in temperate, tropical forests that lives on decomposed organic matter, and turned it into a synthesized song.

Garcia used an electronic musical instrument of his own design called the Energy Bending Lab. The instrument creates “a real-time sonification” of the microvoltage of the slime mold and amplifies it into a mellow, electronic symphony of sound patterns.


This slime mold can make some beautiful music. Can microorganisms also sign recording contracts? Stephen Sharnoff/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

The song the machine produces is a collaboration of sorts between the slime mold and the person operating the Energy Bending Lab. Garcia told Wired Magazine he hooked electrodes up to the slime mold in a petri dish and recorded the electrical activity. Then he ran that recording through a computer and used a voltage control oscillator to vary the oscillations of the audible sound so “the aesthetic is decided by us.”

Basically, the slime mold is the musician and Garcia is the producer, except he doesn’t try to steal any royalty rights away from the slime mold by secretly altering its contract or cooking the books.

Read more here…

Yamaha allows top Music Schools to audition online…


Yamaha’s Player Piano Brings Auditions To The Cloud

Students audition for music schools on the other side of the world with cloud-connected pianos that record and re-create how they played.

Getting into a top music school like UCLA (where John Williams studied) or Boston College (where conductor Robert J. Ambrose studied) requires more than a demo tape. Tiny nuances distinguish the very top musicians from the merely great ones, and judges really need to hear and see an audition in person to tell the difference.

Piano maker Yamaha has convinced 20 U.S. schools, so far, to conduct in-person auditions without the actual person, using a line of Internet-connected player pianos called Disklavier. This allows students from as far away as China to audition for U.S. universities and conservatories, and use the same recorded performance—stored in Yamaha’s cloud network—for applications to multiple schools.

The Disklavier line of pianos may, at first glance, seem a bit gimmicky. It uses MIDI—a digital encoding system for musical instruments—to play back a performance recorded on another Disklavier (or on the same piano earlier). During playback, the piano keys depress and the pedals move up and down as if the instrument were possessed.

These pianos are extremely precise. On the top-end Disklavier PRO models (with list prices starting around $100,000), pedal positions are measured with optical sensors and reproduced with piston-like solenoids on up to a 256-level gradient (an 8-bit level of detail). The speed of the hammers striking the strings is measured and re-created at 1024 levels (a 10-bit level).

“A lot of intersecting musical parameters would result in a response from a listener,” says George Litterst, a music instructor who runs Yamaha’s online audition program, called Disklavier Education Network, or DEN. Take tempo. “Even when we perceive it to be steady,” he says, “there is a certain sense of ebb and flow.” Rubato—Italian for “stolen time”—refers to the slight speeding up or slowing of tempo for artistic effect.

While music schools are starting to use audio and video recordings to evaluate prospects who can’t afford to fly in for an audition, it’s hard to get a nuanced recording from a piano. “It’s just a difficult beast to record,” he says, requiring careful placement of microphones and adjustment of audio levels—not the kinds of things a typical student can do at home. The quality of the playback equipment at schools varies, too.

Yamaha’s DEN audition system also records a silent video of the player, which is synched to the MIDI file on the piano. “It becomes almost a virtual reality experience, as if you’ve beamed the student into your space and they are playing right in front of you,” says Litterst. “You very quickly lose track of the fact that the body of the performer is not on the stage.”

Read more here…

Personality Studies Show the Difference Between People Who Play Music and Everyone Else

via Music.Mic

violin 8-15What drives people to pour hours into making perfectly timed plinking noises with simple brass and stringed instruments?

There’s no easy answer. For decades, researchers have studied what drives certain individuals to spend so much time making and thinking about music. What they’ve found is nothing short of incredible: The minds of musicians and non-musicians are not the same.

Musicians share a number of personality traits that guide them through the difficult work of translating human experiences into a series of otherwise meaningless melodies. Here are some of the ways they are different from everyone else:

They are more open, conscientious and agreeable. A 2004 study from the University of Melbourne subjected musicians to a battery of personality tests. They found that instrumental musicians score significantly higher than non-musicians on the openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness factors of the Big Five personality measures.

A 2012 study out of the University of Arts in Serbia uncovered similar findings. Musicians’ openness to experience is linked to “independency in thinking, active imagination, aesthetic sensibility, inner receptivity, preference of diversity, intellectual curiosity and divergent thinking,” the authors write. This is common to all creative types, but is absolutely vital in helping young musicians establish their expressive scope and creative faculties. The authors recommend educators seek out students that demonstrate this openness when looking to fill seats in higher education.

Musicians are more stable and agreeable than even other artists. This may have a lot to do with the fact that live musical performances are a distinct give-and-take conversation with the audience.

A 2010 study found that visual artists and musicians demonstrated greater openness to experience than students studying psychology. However, that comes with a higher degree of neuroticism in visual artists. Musicians scored far higher on the scales of extraversion and agreeableness, though several studies show the opposite — that musicians are more accurately characterized as “bold introverts.”

However, this may have a lot to do with the choice of instrument. Anthony Kemp, in a groundbreaking book-length study on musicians’ personalities, found strings frequently attract “the quieter, more introverted and studious child,” whereas brass and singing appeal to more “socially outgoing and extroverted” types. But these are only variations on a theme, and all musicians can boast some pretty incredible cognitive and personal benefits because they decide to follow through with their practicing.

Read More Here...

JKM joins baseball great Bernie Williams & NAMM to promote music in schools


Bernie Williams interview on Fox 5 in which he discusses his passion for furthering music in public education.

Jordan Kitt’s President & CEO Chris Syllaba (seen at 3:09) joined Bernie and the National Association of Music Merchants in DC last week to encourage congressional support for quality, comprehensive music education for all children. This effort came as Congress looks to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The 2015 fly-in, NAMM’s largest ever, included a day of service at D.C.’s Bancroft Elementary, advocacy training at the Kennedy Center and more than 130 meetings with members of Congress.

“Right now, Congress is working to update the national education bill. This bill would impact 50 million children, shaping U.S. education policy for years, if not decades to come. A record number of NAMM members took time away from business and family to represent our industry and ensure that music and the arts remain core subjects getting the funding they deserve,” said Joe Lamond, president and CEO of NAMM. “We are grateful for their efforts and believe that their passionate voice in support of music education will help achieve our vision of a world where every child has a right to music education.”

Seventy-six NAMM members, former New York Yankee and Latin GRAMMY-nominated musician Bernie Williams, actor Doc Shaw and more fortified the eleventh annual fly-in to reinforce the importance of music education for all children. In face-to-face meetings with members of Congress, NAMM members and artists urged their representatives to designate core academic subjects including music and the arts in ESEA. The Senate HELP Committee’s version of ESEA includes ‘music’ as a core subject. That version now goes to the full Senate.

“When we saw that the education bill was moving through the Senate and that the language included music, we knew that we couldn’t miss this year’s fly-in,” said Scott Abrahamson from Rick’s Musical Instruments, Inc. “This issue and advocating for it is more important than ever!”

A new NAMM Foundation-funded, nationwide study of 1,000 teachers and 800 parents finds strong support for music education at all grade levels. “Striking a Chord: The Public’s Hopes and Beliefs for K-12 Music Education in the United States 2015” was unveiled at the National Press Club during the fly-in. The study finds that strong majorities of teachers and parents say music education is “very” or “extremely” important and should continue to be funded, even at the expense of other programs and classes.

NAMM members presented a SupportMusic Award to Congressman John Lewis (GA), who shared a powerful message about music’s role during times of change, “Without music the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.” The fly-in culminated with a celebration of music education overlooking the Capitol where NAMM members surprised Bernie Williams with a SupportMusic Award. “Obviously, there’s an artistic and creative side to music, but to me, the important thing is that it’s a vehicle to enhance the learning ability of a child,” said Williams, joining the NAMM fly-in for the fifth time this year. “Music helps with the development of the brain and how well students do in all of their other subjects.”

The fly-in kicked off with a day of service at Bancroft Elementary. Fifth graders jammed on guitars, drums and ukuleles with NAMM members, Williams, opera singer Carla Dirlikov, award-winning folk duo Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, GRAMMY-nominated music educator Glen McCarthy, and John Fitzgerald from Remo Inc. The music will play on at Bancroft following NAMM’s visit thanks to generous donations from Rhythm Band Instruments, Middle C Music, Remo Inc., Deering Banjos, Musical Innovations, Groth Music Company, Spicer’s Music LLC, The Cavanaugh Company, Needham Music, GAMA, Music for Life, Kala Brand Music Co. and the NAMM Foundation.

These D.C. Fly-In efforts reinforce NAMM’s vision of a world in which every child has a recognized right to be taught music, with NAMM members as passionate champions of that right. Hear highlights from this week’s efforts and the latest on ESEA authorization during the May 21 SupportMusic Coalition call.

For more information, visit

Duke Ellington School of the Arts Benefit Concert featuring Bobby McFerrin

Our friends at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts are having an 8th Annual Performance Series of Legends benefit concert, headlined by 10-time Grammy Award winner and dynamic performer Bobby McFerrin. Multi-faceted and multi-talented Bobby McFerrin has blurred the distinction between pop music and fine art, exploring uncharted vocal territory, inspiring a whole new generation of a cappella singers and the beatbox movement and dazzling audiences all over the world. He singlehandedly redefined the role of the human voice with his a cappella hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Bobby McFerrin promotes an extraordinary experience through spontaneous performance, engaging audiences with creative energy. Joined by talented students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, we promise you an unforgettable show that you won’t want to miss!

8th Annual Performance Series of Legends
Bobby McFerrin: A Benefit Concert for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Featuring Performances by Ellington Students

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
7:30 PM

The Warner Theatre
513 13th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004

For tickets or sponsorship opportunities, click here…

Jordan Kitts and NAMM in Washington, D.C. – Day 3


Chris Syllaba with former Secretary of Education, Richard Riley (left) and Savoy Players on stilts (right).

Wednesday was the primary day for the 130 Congressional meetings on Capitol Hill that were scheduled by the NAMM Delegates. There was also a morning Congressional Briefing by Dr. Nina Kraus, PhD, Professor and Researcher at Northwestern University, for House and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Caucus Staff at the Capitol. She presented findings in her latest music/brain research investigating the neural encoding of speech and music and the brain’s ability to change as a result of experience and learning new things.

This was followed by a press conference on the benefits and importance of music and the arts in education led by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, Co-chair, Congressional STEAM Caucus. Also commenting were Richard Riley, Joe Lamond, and Chad Smith. Present were Larry Morton, NAMM Chairman, Bernie Williams, NAMM Delegates and others on the House Triangle.

Additionally, NAMM Leadership held meetings throughout the day with key Members of Congress, including with Speaker of the House John Boehner.

The evening concluded at the offices of Nelson Mullins with their annual roof-top party attended by over 500 guests, including government officials, clients and Nelson Mullins leadership and associates.


Press Conference on the House Triangle. From L-R Larry Morton, NAMM Chairman; Kent Knappsberger; Bernie Williams; Dr. Nina Kraus; Actor Doc Shaw; Chad Smith; Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici; former Secretary of Education Richard Riley; and Joe Lamond, President and CEO, NAMM.

The Fly-In concluded on Thursday morning with an 11am SupportMusic Coalition conference call from the Nelson Mullins offices. Several hundred individuals joined in on the call lead by a panel of NAMM Delegates reviewing and commenting on this year’s Fly-In. The SupportMusic Coalition is a public service initiative and advocacy effort that now unites over 8,000 national, regional and international organizations comprised of parents and community leaders seeking to improve access and opportunity in music and arts learning.

This was an exciting series of events and experiences and is a vital part of keeping music in our schools. I, along with my fellow NAMM Delegates, look forward to participating again next year!