Make-Up Lessons From An Economist's Point of View

Make-up Lessons From An Economist’s Point of View

I’m a parent of children enrolled in Suzuki music lessons. I’d like to explain to other parents why I feel – quite strongly, actually – that it is unreasonable of we parents to expect our teachers to make up lessons we miss, even if I know as well as they do just how expensive lessons are, and, equally importantly, how important that weekly contact is with the teacher to keeping practicing ticking along smoothly. I think that it is natural for we parents to share the point of view that students should have their missed lessons rescheduled, but if we were to ‘walk a mile’ in our teachers’ shoes, we might change our minds about what it is reasonable for us to expect of our teachers.

Like many parents, I pay in advance for lessons each term. In my mind, what this means is that I have reserved a regular spot in the busy schedules of my sons’ teachers. I understand – fully – that if I can’t make it to the lesson one week (perhaps my son is sick, or we are away on holiday, or there is some other major event at school) then we will pay for the lesson, but that my teacher is under no obligation to find another spot for me that week, or to refund me for the untaught lesson. And this is the way it should be.

In my ‘other life’ I am an economist and teach at our local university. Students pay good money to attend classes at the university; but if they don’t come to my lecture on a Monday morning, then I am not going to turn around and deliver them a private tutorial on Tuesday afternoon. When I go to the store and buy groceries, I may purchase something that doesn’t get used. Days or months later, I end up throwing it out. I don’t get a refund from the grocery store for the unused merchandise. If I sign my child up for swimming lessons at the local pool, and s/he refuses to return after the first lesson, I can’t get my money back. So there are lots of situations in our everyday lives where we regularly pay in advance for goods or some service, and if we end up not using what we have purchased, we have to just ‘swallow our losses’. On the other hand, if I purchase an item of clothing, and get home and change my mind, I can take it back and expect either a refund or a store credit.

So why do I believe that music lessons fall into the first category of ‘non-returnable merchandise’, rather than into the second case of ‘exchange privileges unlimited’ (which I think is one of the advertising slogans of an established women’s clothing store!)? Speaking now as an economist, I would claim that the reason is that items like clothing are “durable goods’ – meaning, they can be returned and then resold at the original price – whereas music lessons are non-durable goods – meaning, once my Monday slot at 3:30 is gone, my son’s teacher can’t turn around and sell it again. The only way she would be able to give him a lesson later in the week would be if she were to give up time that she had scheduled for her own private life; and that seems pretty unreasonable – I can’t think of many employees who would be thrilled if their bosses were to announce that they couldn’t work from 3:30 to 4:30 this afternoon, but would they please stay until 6:30 on Thursday, because there will be work for them then!

Many teachers hesitate to refuse our request to shift lesson times (because our busy schedules do change), because unless they keep us parents happy, we will decide to take our child somewhere else for lessons (or to drop musical study), and they will lose part of their income. This is particularly true in areas with lower average income, where it can be particularly difficult to find students. So rather than telling us that ‘well, actually, the only time when I’m not teaching and that you can bring your son for lesson is during the time I set aside each week to go for a long soul-cleansing walk, and I can’t do that on Monday at 3:30 when you should have turned up’, they agree to teach us at a time that really doesn’t suit their schedule. Teachers who are ‘nice’ in this way often, in the long run, end up exhausted, and feeling exploited; they try to draw a line in the sand. However, too few parents ask to switch only when absolutely necessary, and too many parents want lesson times when it suits them this week, which is not the same time that suited last week. If the conflict arises because my child is in the School play, and they have their dress-rehearsal during his lesson time, then I feel that I must choose between the two activities, and if he attends the dress rehearsal my private lesson teacher doesn’t owe me anything.

During May, my eldest son will be missing three lessons because he is going to accompany me on a trip to New Zealand to visit his great-grandparents. I do not expect my son’s teacher to refund me for those missed lessons, or to reschedule them by ‘doubling up’ lessons in the weeks before or after our departure. Since there will be lots of advanced notice, I might ask her to consider preparing a special ‘practice tape’ for that period, or to answer my questions via e-mail, but if she doesn’t have the time (the second half of April is going to be really busy for her, and she wouldn’t be able to do the tape until more or less the week we left) and so has to refuse, then that’s fine. I certainly don’t expect her to credit me with three make-up lessons; there is no way for her to find a student to fill a three-week hole in her schedule during our absence. Instead, I hope that she will enjoy the extra hour of rest during those three weeks, and that we will all feel renewed enthusiasm when we return to lessons at the end of the trip.

Article Copyright © 2001 Vicky Barham

The Benefits of Playing Music Help Your Brain More Than Any Other Activity

The brain-training is big business. For companies like BrainHQ, Luminosity, and Cogmed, it's actually a multimillion dollar business that is expected to surpass $3 billion by 2020. But, do the actually benefit your brain?

Research doesn't believe so. In fact, the the University of Illinois determined that there's little or no evidence that these games improve anything more than the specific tasks being trained. Luminosity was even fined $2 million for false claims.

So, if these brain games don't work, then what will keep your brain sharp? The answer? Learning to play a musical instrument.

Why Being a Musician Is Good For Your Brain

Science has shown that musical training can change brain structure and function for the better. It can also improve long-term memory and lead to better brain development for those who start at a young age.

Furthermore, musicians tend to be more mentally alert, according to new research from a University of Montreal study.

"The more we know about the impact of music on really basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical training to individuals who might have slower reaction times," said lead researcher Simon Landry.

"As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them."

Previously, Landry found that musicians have faster auditory, tactile, and audio-tactile reaction times. Musicians also have an altered statistical use of multi-sensory information. This means that they're better at integrating the inputs from various senses.

"Music probably does something unique," explains neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday of the University of Westminster. "It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it."

Unlike brain-games, playing an instrument is a rich and complex experience. This is because it's integrating information from senses like vision, hearing, and touch, along with fine movements. This can result long-lasting changes in the brain. This can also be applicable in the business world.

Changes in the Brain

Brains scans have been able to identify the difference in brain structure between musicians and non-musicians. Most notably, the corpus callosum, a massive bundle of nerve fibres connecting the two sides of the brain, is larger in musicians. Also, the areas involving movement, hearing, and visuospatial abilities appear to be larger in professional keyboard players.

Initially, these studies couldn't determine if these differences were caused by musical training of if anatomical differences predispose some to become musicians. Ultimately, longitudinal studies showed that children who do 14 months of musical training displayed more powerful structural and functional brain changes.

These studies prove that learning a musical instrument increases grey matter volume in various brain regions, It also strengthens the long-range connections between them. Additional research shows that musical training can enhance verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy skills.

Long Lasting Benefits For Musicians

Brain scanning studies have found that the anatomical change in musicians' brains is related to the age when training began. It shouldn't be surprising, but learning at a younger age causes the most drastic changes.

Interestingly, even brief periods of musical training can have long-lasting benefits. A 2013 study found that even those with moderate musical training preserved sharp processing of speech sounds. It was also able to increase resilience to any age-related decline in hearing.

Researchers also believe that playing music helps speech processing and learning in children with dyslexia. Furthermore, learning to play an instrument as a child can protect the brain against dementia.

"Music reaches parts of the brain that other things can't," says Loveday. "It's a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust."

Other Ways Learning an Instrument Strengthens Your Brain

Guess what? We're still not done. Here are eight additional ways that learning an instrument strengthens your brain.

1. Strengthens bonds with others. This shouldn't be surprising. Think about your favorite band. They can only make a record when they have contact, coordination, and cooperation with each other.

2. Strengthens memory and reading skills. The Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University states that this is because music and reading are related via common neural and cognitive mechanisms.

3. Playing music makes you happy. McMaster University discovered that babies who took interactive music classes displayed better early communication skills. They also smiled more.

4. Musicians can process multiple things at once. As mentioned above, this is because playing music forces you to process multiple senses at once. This can lead superior multisensory skills.

5. Musical increases blood flow in your brain. Studies have found that short bursts of musical training increase the blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain. That can be helpful when you need a burst of energy. Skip the energy drink and jam for 30 minutes. 

6. Music helps the brain recover. Motor control improved in everyday activities with stroke patients.