USF Magazine Fall 2013

Volume 55 | Number 3


Piano Memories

| USF News

Jennifer Bugos plays the piano in front of adults seated at pianos while wearing headphones.

Jennifer Bugos leads an intensive two-week piano course.
Photo by Katy Hennig | USF News

Lilli Guttman is learning to play the piano.

Every day for 10 days, the retired school teacher from New York spends 3 1/2 hours at USF learning basic piano technique, finger dexterity exercises, scales and arpeggios, music theory and standard piano repertoire.

Guttman is part of a USF research study investigating the effects of intense piano instruction on cognitive performance in adults and children.

Jennifer Bugos, assistant professor of music education, and Nathan Maxfield, a specialist in the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, are collecting data that will provide information on the viability of musical training to assist with other brain functions.

“We are looking at several different areas of cognitive processing as well as executive function,” Bugos says.

This is Bugos’ second year teaching the intense, two-week piano course. She and Maxfield plan to use data from the current cohort of students to build on information collected last year in a similar trial looking at cognitive and behavioral decision making, memory and stress levels.

Participants in the study undergo cognitive, behavioral and memory testing before and after the program, as well as non-invasive electroencephalogram, or EEG testing, to measure brain activity.

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

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,” Guttman says, still surprised at the speed in which she is learning to play the piano.

“I have grown exponentially,” she adds. “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.”

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