Before arriving, I had never driven a car, and while was waiting on my work permit I volunteered at a daycare center to learn the language and the psychology of toddlers.
I came in the USA with the dream of developing a digital, interactive tool for helping people learn to read music.
With this remarkable event, my journey of searching began. I wanted to find out why we fail most children in music education.
Since I had been able to experience two completely polar learning experiences, I wanted to understand why some students become “stars,” while others do not learn anything in music at all.
After all, in public schools, for example, children know the letters and can read texts regardless of their "talent," but in music, the gap between those who can and those who cannot is huge.
Music for me became like a “third world” country, where we have very rich and very poor students with no “middle class.”
I had to graduate from a music college and receive my master’s of arts to be able to study the problem more profoundly.
Both groups had one thing in common. They were not able to truly see music notation. They stared at keys and notes as we stare at the shelves of spices in a grocery store. Finally, those with music talent, opened their “third eye” and started reading music using their inborn music ear. Sadly, the rest of the students fell off the train of music literacy.
Near the end of the 1980’s, I purchased my first video game: a black and white TV station ping-pong game. The idea that training music should be interactive and visual was born right there! It struck me that learning to play piano and read music is spatial and requires more skills including motor skills and even body awareness.
Piano students are like pilots and need a “simulator” to help them to grasp all these “buttons” at once! It was no doubt to me that technology would be the most effective way to combat music “blindness” of kids and help them develop the eye-sight needed for music notation.
In Ukraine, I had been making $20 a month. There was no way for me to save enough money to buy a computer. That is exactly why I set the goal to immigrate to the USA and develop the technology component of my new approach of teaching music and piano.
When I came in the US, I was prepared to start with any job to sustain myself, but Providence again favored me: I always ended up with jobs connected with children, music and education. In fact, right after receiving my work permit I opened my first small business company called “Little Mozart.” I traveled from school to school with a couple of keyboards and gave group music lessons. On top of that, I taught semi-private and private lessons in homes.
Some daycare-center owners were very serious about music education for the kids -- some not. I noticed that the children facilities with owners who cared about music education had more educational tools in general.
Many daycare and private school directors shared the belief with me that music makes people smarter, better, more compassionate, more creative and united.
Music literacy helps kids to stay focused, develop their attention span, be on top of many things and treat life like a successful project. The importance of music training grows day by day especially with the growth of Internet communication. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest - you name it - are mostly visual social sites. An over-abundance of visual information is destructive. Music lessons in such a situation are a salvation.
In 1999 I read about the “Mozart effect.” It was all over the news! A physicist, Gordon Shaw, from Irvine, California, discovered that students have better scores on tests after listening Mozart. I immediately traveled to California and met with the scientist. Gordon was working on his renowned book Keeping Mozart in MIND. He was about to reveal a new discovery: piano lessons develop kids' mind.
After giving a group of 2nd grade students piano lessons for a year and other groups computer and choir, this scientist found out that “piano kids” have better scores on math and science tests.
Getting to know this great scientist and his work helped me understand that I was on the right path, and whatever happened I should continue my work on building new system of teaching music.
Life in America helped me expand my horizons, learning not only a new language, but also a new way of thinking. This country gave me more opportunities to develop my program. In the early 2000s, I was able to start working on software for my training course. I also filed for a patent.
Testing the computer version of my system exceeded all expectations. Children of any age, even two-year-olds, found joy began to read the notes and develop fine motor skills, coordination, piano skills. Learning to play the piano was a pleasure. It was like a fairy tale! The kids were so amazing that they got on the news and a talk show. The most important part for me was that ALL students succeed - not just prodigies.
We are all musically inclined. Initially it was just a hypothesis. Now I know it for sure.
The system that I developed received a name “Soft Way to Mozart.” I discovered that in the 18th century a glitch happened with music literacy, when the music notation became extremely user unfriendly. Instead of fixing this glitch and re-thinking the way of teaching music, humanity went after prodigies. Wonder children like Mozart became the goal of music education.
You know, watching the media chasing another Mozart made me very sad, because it is alienating normal kids from learning music. Why bother if you are not a Mozart? Prodigies are also not winners in such a situation: they lose educated listeners, who don't care any longer.
I call on everyone back in Mozart’s time to fix a little misconception and revive classical music for all kids. When they learn how to sight-read and move their fingers, the whole new world of sounds opens to them. They won't necessarily be piano competition winners, but their life will be so much better and more meaningful!
Today I have created almost everything that was in my plans when I was 15. My company's name is Music Vision International, because we literally help people see music score as they have never seen them before. We teach students, parents and teachers remotely how to learn and to teach using our digital tools. We teach in English, Russian (of course!), Spanish, German, French and Kazakh.
My invention was called the “missing visual link in music education” by Yuri Rozum, a renowned Russian pianist. My first theses were published by a famous Moscow conservatory. I am currently writing scientific papers with Herzen University and St Petersburg Conservatory. My vocational teaching course is provided through the University of Herzen (Russia)
We have many teachers here, in the USA that have received my personal training and now teach students using the “Soft Way to Mozart” approach. Sunny Abarbanel from Fresno, CA, for example, has already used the method in her piano studio for 15 years! I am very proud of public schools that use my method in piano labs. Such schools are mostly in California for some reason.
What makes this invention different and unique? We have adjusted music notation to the eyes of each learner and developed formats for reading music that gradually becomes more challenging. The analogy of it in reading books: from large print with pictures to novels. We have developed similar formats with interaction. Now the music score is not just adjustable, but also communicative.
After receiving a US patent and experiencing a lot of success with our students (we have piano competition winners in Ukraine, Israel and Spain), I hope to bring this tool to as many schools, daycare centers and homes as possible. We have also had amazing success teaching kids with special needs! Elderly people can restore fine motor skills and coordination with this tool. There is so much we can do for every individual!
The goal of learning music should not be to stick out from the crowd. Music is a loving tool for all of us to have a happier, more meaningful life and to be more creative and compassionate at the same time. I think today is the best time to reboot true music literacy everywhere. We will all benefit from that!