Piano Memories

USF researchers are teaching piano as a means of studying its impact on cognitive performance in adults and children.



                                                                                                                                      Video: Katy Hennig | USF News

By Katy Hennig

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (July 2, 2013) – Ever wanted to learn how to play the piano?


Researchers at the University of South Florida researchers are conducting a series of piano training camps investigating the effects of intense piano instruction on cognitive performance in both adults and children.


Jennifer Bugos, assistant professor of music education, is working with Nathan Maxfield, a specialist in USF’s communication sciences and disorders, to establish a data set that will provide information on the viability of musical training to assist with other brain functions.


“What we are doing is investigating the effects of piano instruction on cognitive performance. So we are looking at several different areas of cognitive processing as well as executive performance,” said Bugos.


This is the second year that Bugos is teaching piano in an intense two-week course to establish a connection between cognitive development.


“Prior results from our past research studies we’ve seen the results of longer-term piano intervention, we’ve seen increased performance in working memory performance and increase in planning performance in older adults,” said Bugos.  


Delroy McPherson heard about the study through Maxfield and was eager to try to learn a new skill.  


“So I decided to give it a try to see what it was all about. I’ve never played a piano and I don’t have one, but it’s good, I’m learning, I’m not really that good but I am picking up some stuff,” McPherson said. 


Participants come every day for 10 days for a 3 ½ hour session. During the session they learn basic piano technique, finger dexterity exercises, scales and arpeggios, music theory as well as standard piano repertoire.


The process includes testing before and after the piano lessons looking at cognitive and behavioral methods, as well as memory tests. The researchers perform EEG testing, or non-invasive electroencephalogram analysis of the participants.


“We look at overall brain activity while one is looking at some words on a screen so they are making decisions about what they see and what they hear, so we are looking at data on that level. We are also looking at stress levels, we are measuring cortisol levels,” Bugos said.


The research is being funded by a grant from the School of Music and the College of The Arts in an effort to secure more funding for future studies.


“This has been a fabulous experience for me,” said Lilli Guttman, a retired schoolteacher from New York. She has surprised herself at the speed in which she is learning the piano and credits Bugos with providing the opportunity for her and others that have had no prior musical training.


“I have grown exponentially. The skills that she has given us are unbelievable, this is a fabulous program,” said Guttman. “I didn’t expect to go so fast. I expected, ok, I’d learn to play piano with my right hand, maybe with my left hand. But never with both, never using harmony and melody at the same time. I never even knew the difference between harmony and melody.”


Katy Hennig can be reached at 813-974-6993.