Cameron Bray


A colourful approach to music education

10:16, 6th June 2019
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The connection between sound and colour is something that is very familiar to people with synaesthesia, a condition in which sensory information seems to get combined in the brain, leading to interesting results such as being able to smell words or see music. When the researcher Julian Asher went to see a symphony orchestra as a child, he recalls thinking that, ‘they turned down the lights so you could see the colours better’. While not everyone share’s Asher’s experience, it’s becoming increasingly clear that colour does have an impact on our perception of the world. It is thought that experiencing a wide range of colours causes different parts of the brain to engage, which means that you are more likely to retain information and be able to concentrate for longer.

A big smile for the Strings & Keyboard Program’s vibrant piano

Colour plays an immense role in our lives, whether we realise it or not. A lot of research has gone into how it influences things like our decision making, our judgement, and even how food tastes. While it was previously thought that babies perceived the world in monochrome, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, studies with eye tracking equipment have shown that newborns are capable of distinguishing a patch of colour on grey backgrounds. However, this patch needs to be quite large and the colour must be very intense for the baby to notice it. It isn’t until a baby reaches about three months old that their eyes and brain have developed enough to properly process nuances in their perception of colour – what an experience that must be! At around six months, their visual acuity is almost identical to that of the average adult.

Taking advantage of a young brain’s elasticity can result in huge strides being taken in terms of developmental goals and education. New sensations are important for the developing mind, and the more experiences that you are given from an early age, the more likely it is that you will have a greater and more nuanced appreciation of the sensory world as you grow up. To put it one way, experiencing a broad palette early on can mean a broader palate later in life!

Multicoloured music

Tse showcases her range of instruments

It was exactly these sort of ideas which inspired Karen Karana Tse (left) to found the String & Keyboard Musik Program in 2015. Her approach to music-making is to use bright colours to add further depth to a learning environment.

When she was younger, Tse developed a number of dangerous blood clots around her brain. Following several surgeries to remove the problem, she was encouraged by her doctors to take up music to help with rehabilitation. Over time, she learned to play the piano, the violin, and the harp and eventually studied music therapy in Canada. When she returned home to Hong Kong, she began teaching and quickly found that the young people that she taught grew bored and showed little interest in keeping up their practice. As someone who had benefited greatly from music, she wanted to use her experience to make music more accessible and fun for young musicians.

That led to the development of the String & Keyboard Musik Program, which involves brightly coloured versions of the three instruments that Tse plays, along with a variety of educational resources such as videos, apps and workbooks. In addition to the instruments being vivid, the strings of the harp and the violin are individually coloured. This means that it is possible for young people as young as two to follow along with simple tunes without needing to introduce them to more complex notation. The programme is set up to gradually introduce more complicated music until the student reaches the point that they are ready to move onto a more traditional instrument. By this stage, the idea of making music should still be exciting and the skills and experience they have had so far will serve as a great foundation for a lifelong love of music.

If that sounds like something that you might be interested in, then you should come along to the Music & Drama Education Expos where you will be able to meet with Tse. She will be at both the Manchester event, which is taking place at Old Trafford on 10 October 2019, and the London one, which will be at the Olympia London on 4 and 5 March 2020.

For more information, please visit stringsandkeyboardmusik.com.

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