Music is often applied for creating ambiance and help control one's mood in wellness-health field. The most prominent one is music therapy, focusing on make you "feel better."
Mind is a great natural statistic machine. I witness the decision making based on statistic/ experiences among my piano students all the time, especially when they sight-read a new piece. That is to execute the next move mainly depending on the past experiences and memories of the patterns they have played, with lesser degree of visual recognition of the patterns applied to their processing. In other words, they rely heavily on the probabilities of certain movement patterns (yes, we often go to # and flat notes with No. 2 and 4 fingers due to the simpler pieces introduced for beginner and intermediate students often have such hand positions).
Updates on Project Ipsilon - nerd's endeavor, hypothetical neural model (procedural learning, decision making) and why music notation is ideal as visual input
It has been a while since I entered my last blog entry here. A lot has happened from then until now: our project has been mentored by great programs such as Erasmus Center for Entrepreneurship, ENDuRE Project at University of Pisa, etc. The project of integrating music and clinical use of it is now in the phase of not only having the prototype ready for testing, but also preparing for the possible mass-market with much more accessible and usable device than ever before.
As a neuro nerd, this journey has been mesmerizing - started with my true nerd nature of wanting to understand the mechanism of piano playing and how it could be facilitated by comprehending brain functions by taking online free courses at spare times. Fast forward, after several online courses and self study of going through numerous (200+) published research articles relating to cognition, visual recognition, learning and basal ganglia/ cerebellar functions, I have created the hypothetical neural model of our product, hypothesis for its efficacy (validation testing pending) and our prototype. With increasingly visible integration between technology relating to machine learning / data science and its health application, data science/ statistics to detect certain illnesses using reliable, quantifiable biofeedback/biometric data is imminent. I believe that it will change how we view medicine drastically. Especially with my background of having one biologically close relative recently deceased with Parkinson's disease, it is also my own endeavor to witness some extent of prevention or cure for those illnesses which are currently largely unknown. My motto is "if no one is doing it (or not achieving the desired results), at least examine it and see if you can do it yourself." At this point, we seek the researchers who would like to collaborate with us for testing our hypothesis and the prototype. We are also seeking funds to make this testing happen.
As for the use of musical notation as visual input, it makes great sense from neurological point of view. Especially when you use quarter notes (filled note which is in circular shape, either on the line or between the lines of musical staff), it creates clear black-and-white contrast and induces the recognition of the "appearance" (where note is located in the staff, which translate the location on the keyboard or known as pitch) more so than alphabets or other signs often used for cognitive testing. Phototransduction and visual recognition are behind this particular reason. In addition to that, music notation has a lot to do with location in piano playing. In other words, it also helps to monitor memory function associated with spatial understanding. Memory has a lot to do with hippocampus of the brain and it also processes locations. In music, you need to comprehend the visual input (music) in order to facilitate the actual action which is enabled by mapping out your movements accordingly to specific locations on the piano keyboard. It is perfect to monitor cognitive processing capability, encoding the visual input to the motor output. For this reason, we feature music pitch notation in our product.
Among my past and current students, most of the errors happen when there is a glitch in relaying understood information (music; spatial information) than movement control itself. I believe that automatic movement is higher in order of hierarchy due to our ingrained instinct to avoid any danger than visual comprehension and motor movements lead by it. Therefore, students - between beginner to intermediate level - often fight within their minds to let visual comprehension win over the automatic motor movements. Amazingly, the solution can be the sense of tempo and pulse, the rhythmic side of music processing. There are some "magic numbers" of ideal tempo for visual processing and motor control (slight differences among different personality types). I have tested this on students who have attention issues including severe ADHD, it helped them engage in their tasks significantly than not exercising such tempo (metronome has been used to create the environment). This part of our knowledge and experience have not been examined for possible clinical use just yet (for educational purpose, I make the estimate for the metronomic number for the tempo for each student who wants one). My team and I would like to see if we could come up with interesting yet reliable and usable product with this aspect soon.
At this point, my interest lies in how interchangeable or relate-able our neural model can be to the computational equivalent. In my hypothesis, it integrates visual recognition (with building memory pool as a part of it) and decision making, subsequent motor output as outcome of the comprehension. In piano sight reading training (to read unfamiliar music and play on the spot), we need to recognize the patterns and encode them in much faster succession to enable reading and playing in quasi-simultaneous manner. On the contrary, regular visual recognition takes much longer, not fast enough to relay the encoded information to take actions almost at the same time. If my hypothesis is deemed feasible, in theory, we could accelerate the visual recognition capability leading to decision making drastically faster. I wonder how much of a difference it may make in the reality. That would be a question to be answered when we are able to collect our user data from validation testing.
To be continued....
I have been active in the greater NYC area for over 15 years as a piano teacher/ pianist. In my teaching career, it has taken me time and effort to establish the effective method to enhance visual learning and attention control all these years. Music playing - whether piano or any other instrumental playing - involves motor execution. Yet in classical music, we learn from visual input and encode it to motor output in successive manner to physically make music (and aural recognition is more of a feedback to adjust textural control accordingly). Thus, it is very easy, especially the young students to rely on motor memory and not processing music score much to learn a piece. We are all creatures of habits and we also are smart enough to go for as little cognitive load to get through the task as possible. This is a fine example of such. And relying on tactile memory is not necessarily a bad thing, everything has dual sides of positiveness and negativeness after all. It could enhance the public performance skills especially at the concert settings. Tactile learners always perform better though it may take longer for them to acquire the complete piece of music in their hands and minds.
Having said that, it has been always tricky when trying to help students, mostly the young and beginner students to adapt to visual learning in relation to motor learning. Children tend to be motor learners, which seems to be a natural tendency up to around 8 or 9; then they can start to think more logically, capable of relying on visual input and its processing to make decision on motor output in "processing loop." So when the students gradually learn and shift their reliance from motor memory to motor execution originated from visual comprehension, the movements usually become rather impulsive and there is no "no-go" but simply "go" until the visual processing relay to motor output is well established (sensory integration in cognitive function?). There are some tricks to regulate such impulsiveness (it is one of my findings besides how to minimize the cognitive load in visual processing) - I shall save it for another time.
Meanwhile, I have come across with a very interesting article on Guardian on self-control (response inhibition and its effect on memory). I couldn't agree more on this - when students, the ones in process of integrating visual processing to execute motor response to it, try to minimize the repeated errors (usually they happen due to erroneous tactile memory), the recollection of what they have just done somehow becomes blurry and vague. In such phase, they are so fixated on "no-go" to suppress the instantaneous motor response, it takes much more time to have the information penetrated to their memory system, whether at the tactile, visual and/or aural level. Though this transition is necessary, especially those who have been taught by another teacher previously and have been very motor oriented with minimal visual processing integrated to their practicing habit, this could be very frustrating time for the students. [So, here is our pitch! Our Ipsilon Method effectively induces the easier transition to vision centered motor learning - it really makes a difference! ] Once "motor habit/behavior" in association with visual processing becomes more regulated and controlled, such impulsiveness magically disappears. Needless to say, students' memory of conscious control over motor output and the actual stimuli they have processed to reach the "output" begin to stabilize and materialize in clear and concrete manner.
A pretty and cute composition, "Piano Tri-Angle for four hands" by Tamami Abrakawa, performed by Minor-Sakaki Piano Duo (Carol Minor, Yayoi Sakaki, pianos) at New Rochelle Public Library couple years ago. It is like a little music summer breeze - enjoy!
I had an interesting opportunity at my music director (organist/pianist) work.
First, I have to be honest, my professional musical training did not include organ performance (like many those who work as music director/ organist are , my professional background is classical piano performance) . Therefore, unless it is for special services, I usually minimize risk of adding organ pedal playing (not too used to use my feet in equal 'dexterity' degree of my hands). I either keep it extremely simple to use it as 'pedal point' (held down with minimal change of note/location, just to give solid bass line) or simply substitute similar register played by hand.
Long story short, there were a few funerals I had to play over the weekend and one service consisted of all Bach program for the musical pieces (Prelude, Offertory interlude, Postlude, etc) and most of them were "real" organ pieces. I tried them all both as organ pieces played only by hands and as full organ pieces involving the pedal. The musical verdict was pretty obvious - I had to play the full versions. I gave myself a challenge to master the excerpts of the listed pieces (in such services, we usually 'cut' and 'paste' parts of the requested pieces so that they all fit into service) in roughly 4 and half day.
What I noted was that it was actually fun to play the "real" organ pieces (not the hymns just to add certain solid pedal/bass line) and it was not that bad to adjust from hands-only to hands and feet coordination (with my notorious love of high heels). A bit ironic that heels actually helped a lot to balance on the pedal to enable the weight shift between the heel and the toe and vice versa to keep the legato line (mostly with right foot doing so, left foot did more of jumps from one location to the other - after all, I am a beginner using my feet as if they are additional 'hand' and I am guessing I am "right footed"). Obviously, the heel part of the shoes had to be a bit bulky so that it does not slip from the pedal. I am used to move pianistically (horizontally) with my hands at the keyboard and the feet only moving vertically for pedal change (feet do not have their position change since the piano pedals have totally different function from organ pedals). Yet movement-wise, it was not too difficult to manage the feet coordination, after watching some YouTube clips of organists performing similar (but not the same) pieces. I suppose visual learning of knowing "how to" helped a lot to learn my own movements. In fact, the hardest part was to designate the visual input (3 parts, not typical piano score of 2 parts, which is not really a problem - some piano pieces come with 2 or 4 parts though we only have 2 hands and we are used to read multiple layers/parts at a time) to actual movements by the specific limbs. I observed that I designate things fairly comfortably by judging from the register (or unless otherwise specified by the composer), which is usually the typical writing fashion you would see in piano scores with multiple layers. Due to such processing tendency, I kept mixing up the LH part with the pedal (feet) part due to their close/similar register ranges in first 2-3 days. That was the hardest to clarify and maintain the accuracy of actual playing (kept playing LH part by the feet and vice versa...). All went well for the performance/ services, though (phew!).
One thing I did not challenge myself enough this time was the change of sound within the piece. Organ playing comes with quasi-orchestration skills of selecting the sound combination for each section of the piece. You can pre-input it using specific pedals/ buttons/levers to do so - that is something I need to explore more for the truly organ pieces (I do this to certain extent but when I am only using my hands to avoid extra coordination). This requires more examination of sound colors and balance besides the additional coordination of pressing whatever for such function while I am already coordinating 2 hands and 2 feet! I think professionally trained organists are the most coordinated musicians of all and admire their fluid movements...
Though I do not intend to trade my primary instrument, I am intending to learn a few more "full" organ pieces to continue to give myself a healthy degree of coordination and musical challenge. It is true that when you have 'fun,' you learn well. I have discovered my new musical pastime (as it opposes to piano playing as a profession) and hope to continue experimenting and exploring with it further! For that, my music director work enables me to practice it with certain performance goals, which I find quite lucky :)
Great experiences working and learning from great vocalists and the concert. Many thanks to the mentors and talented vocalists and I am happily back in NY resuming weekly obligation.
Now, the repertoire for the final concert has been set - besides playing for the singers' lessons, additional rehearsals start! It is actually my first open air concert (never performed "outside" - solo piano recitals are almost always in indoors. Excited! Collaborative piano performance and its preparation are so much more fun than just working on the solo stuff... Also it is so useful/ applicable to my work as a music director relating to choir rehearsals, their repertoires and preparation. Another half way to go!
Just arrived in outskirt of Florence to be a part of Casentino Voice - a wonderful master classes, lesson/coaching and performance series run by my dear soprano colleague and mentor, Valerie Girard. I am so excited to work with those fabulous singers and observe some coaching tips during the course. I truly love summer when I am allowed to have some extra time to spare for my performance enhancing projects to maintain my pianistic (especially on collaborating with singers) skills. So look forward to a week full of music! Despite of the jetlag, I feel so energized!!!