The Sunday Football-Related Music Post: Chiefly About Jazz


Recently the following item from 2015 caught my eye:

Chiefs Linebackers Tour the American Jazz Museum with Local High School Football Team 

Before the tour had even begun at the American Jazz Museum Wednesday afternoon, linebacker Dee Ford, already very familiar with the building, made his way to an area of it called the “Blue Room.”

The “Blue Room,” while honoring the history of Kansas City jazz with several exhibitions in it, also serves as an active club to this day.

Inside of it, next to a stage, sits a piano.

Ford, of course, couldn’t resist.

“I always do that,” he said. “Any time I see a piano, I touch it.”

As has been well documented, one of Ford’s favorite off-the-field activities is playing piano, which he believes has multiple benefits.

“It’s another level of skill that I can actually take to the field,” he explained. “That’s one thing that actually mentally helps me pick up defenses … It’s relaxing, but at the same time, it’s still another level of knowledge, another level of brain power that you have because it’s hard.”

I’ve discussed during this series how impossible it is to excel at both football and music simultaneously. Generally speaking, the music produced by active players confirms this. But the short video of Ford playing which accompanied the article intrigued me, and I decided to check him out.

Ford is an Auburn product, which means he was presumably there at the same time as the subject of Friday’s post, DT Devaunte Sigler. But unlike Sigler he excelled at Auburn and was taken in the first round (No. 23) by the Kansas City Chiefs. When head coach Andy Reid held the press conference after the pick was announced, he billed Ford thusly:

He’s a very intelligent player. He’s a concert pianist on top of being a heck of a football player, so we look forward to bringing him into our defense.

I think it’s fair to say that isn’t quite the usual language coaches use to pump up the fan base. It’s also technically not correct, as Ford is a jazz pianist, not a classical musician:

Ford’s cousin taught him how to play the piano by pointing out the keys and teaching him a song or two.

“I learned everything by ear,” Ford said. “So if I hear it, I can play it.”

It is of course possible for a classical musician to only play by ear, but very uncommon. If you are going to play with other people in a non-improvisational format, you pretty much need to know how to read music. Even blind classical musicians have a Braille system for music notation.

Ford is basically self-taught, according to the video which follows the article, which was produced when he was still at Auburn. As he explains, music was always part of his life, and the family traveled around the state singing gospel. Even his draft party was a music event, as the family band assembled to celebrate not just his draft selection but his mother’s new status as a registered nurse.

But since there’s very little video around of Ford playing, other than what is in the embedded video, let’s look at the idea of the “multiple benefits” of playing an instrument, especially those which would effect a football player. There are a few that are pretty obvious.

Playing an instrument improves your hand-eye coordination and small motor skills, both things which are more important in football than might be supposed.

Learning an instrument develops perseverance and teaches responsibility and time management. It helps with concentration.

This all sounds like the sort of thing music teachers say to persuade everyone to sign their kids up. But in fact there is mounting scientific evidence for even more amazing benefits. Writing for The Telegraph (UK), science writer Richard Alleyne reports:

Experts said there is growing evidence that musicians have structurally and functionally different brains compared with non-musicians – in particular, the areas of the brain used in processing and playing music.

These parts of the brain that control motor skills, hearing, storing audio information and memory become larger and more active when a person learns how to play an instrument and can apparently improve day to day actions such as being alert, planning and emotional perception.

Quoting researcher Lutz Jäncke, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, Alleyne writes:

“If music has such a strong influence on brain plasticity this raises the question of whether this effect can be used to enhance cognitive performance.

Several studies indeed show that musical practice increases memory and language skills, and I suggest expanding this field.”

One of the studies Jäncke is presumably thinking of involved preschoolers. The study divided the children into four groups, a control group, a group who received weekly group singing lessons, one which received weekly computer skills classes, and one which received weekly keyboard lessons. The latter demonstrated an astonishing 34% improvement in their spatial-temporal skills with weekly piano lessons, compared to children who received computer skills or group singing lessons. The effect was described as “long-term,” according to the researchers.

And of course music is an excellent way to reduce stress—something I would think you have a lot of as a first-round draft pick in the NFL.

Let’s allow Ford to speak (and play) for himself. Enjoy.




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