Magazine article Science News

Master Pianists Mature Well with Practice

Magazine article Science News

Master Pianists Mature Well with Practice

Article excerpt

Not surprisingly, the late classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz began to move and react more slowly as he got older. Yet even in his eighties, Horowitz's magnificent performances attracted standing-room-only audiences.

Horowitz stood as a stellar example of an age-defying phenomenon typical of older professional pianists, according to a new study. Intensive practice throughout adulthood maintains the musical skills of these elderly performers at levels comparable to those of much younger piano masters, despite decreases in general mental and motor abilities that accompany aging, contend Ralf Th. Krampe of the University of Potsdam, Germany, and K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University in Tallahassee.

"Our research shows that a sufficient amount of daily, deliberate practice can suspend any observable age-related declines in expert musical performance, at least until around 65 years of age," Ericsson holds.

The psychologists recruited 24 young pianists between the ages of 20 and 31, half of them "experts" who were taking advanced solo classes and half of them amateurs with several years of instruction. The study also included 24 pianists age 52 to 68, divided evenly between professional performers and amateurs.

On tests of finger-tapping speed and general reaction time, both groups of older pianists showed characteristic age-related declines compared to their younger counterparts. But on musical measures, such as the ability to vary the tempo and loudness of phrases while playing a moderately complex composition, age-related losses appeared only in the amateurs; older and younger experts did about equally well. …

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