Sáncal Method: Musical Education Takes a New Dimension

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“Music is my passion and I try to pass it on to my students. If you have ever dreamed of playing piano and you believe that it is just the moment to start, it will be a pleasure for me to come along on this exciting path with you”. Marián Sánchez published advertisements like this to earn extra money while she attended architecture classes in Sevilla, where she arrived with new concerns after completing her musical studies in her native Cádiz.

Such advertisements triggered what would inspire Marián Sánchez to set up a new company aimed at reinventing the study of music forever. How did she reach this goal? By increasing the range of possibilities, adding new ingredients and lines of cognitive exploration already detected by science, but which had not taken shape and put into practice until now.

The spark that lit the fuse of the Sáncal Method started in Madrid while Sánchez was attending a postgraduate course on Cultural Heritage. Sánchez states: “I was giving piano lessons again and one day I received a call from a 70-year-old woman who was interested. Soon after, several of her friends started coming as well. I realized throughout the group meetings held to evaluate progress, which even some relatives attended, that the impact of the classes went beyond musical education”. Sánchez remembers that one of her students recovered partial mobility in their arm after suffering from a stroke, or those who successfully fought memory loss that diminished their day-to-day quality of life.  

After the initial surprise, she began investigating the matter herself: “I found an astonishing number of scientific documents proving that brain plasticity – the capacity to acquire knowledge or establish new neuronal connexions – does not exhaust itself due to the aging process”. She was so surprised with her findings that she resolved to cross the Atlantic to see for herself the progress made by a group active in its research at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her stay in Philadelphia was a game changer which moved beyond the anecdotal or fleeting concern. Marián Sánchez challenged herself to draft a new methodology aimed at showing that musical education – understood from another point of view – breaks down barriers. Therefore, this methodology became itself an unprecedented tool in understanding cognitive development. However, she still had a long way to go.

During a break while working as professor of architecture at the University of Santiago in Chile she admitted that “I spent all of my time thinking about ways to share the knowledge I was acquiring.” She continued investigating until she had enough evidence of the new heights which musical education could take us.

Based on statistics, playing an instrument can diminish the chance of suffering dementia up to 67 percent,  and stop or slow down the illness in its early stages.  “Based on such astonishing data, I concluded that traditional methods of learning music didn’t work at all, that they had to be personalized. However, I realized that I I didn’t have the structure from which to build my project. The theory lacked exposure and application”.

Marián decided to return to Spain. After living in Málaga and Girona, she finally settled in Santander. During those months Marián Sánchez implemented what we can consider the first Beta version of the Sáncal Method. However, with each move of city there were students left in the lurch. She was working with older people who suffered neurological illness, paralytic children… “I had to call a neurologist friend of mine six times a day because I urgently needed a methodology ad hoc for every kind of student. Also, if I wanted to reach out to people in an extensive way I required the software to guide them online, and a platform to gather data in order to improve the methodology in real time”, explains Sánchez.

Developer David Ríos (Current CTO of the company) and neuro-scientist Ángel Yorca (currently CCO) radically changed their lives and moved to the capital of Cantabria so they could join the first Sáncal Method team (currently there are 7 teams). The program Explorer of Santander Bank awarded the first team with the grand prize, thanks to which they also flew to Silicon Valley, “we set up a company based on our ideas and drafted a business plan”. However, Sánchez considers the greatest reward to be “the personal dedication of my team”. Following that success she picked up other important supporters such as the public organization SODERCAN.  

Proven efficiency

Along with the aforementioned advantages related to the day to day functioning of older people, currently the method is being applied to children in order to optimize the transfer of skills acquired by playing instruments to other fields. Nevertheless, bearing in mind other people who, thanks to the Sáncal Method, minimize stress, achieve better concentration, and improve cognitive speed. “We build a neuropsychological profile of every person to detect and identify their cognitive skills – perception, attention, memory, reasoning and coordination – from which we should work on”, states Marián Sánchez. She highlights the fact that controlling an instrument through reading musical language is the most complex activity that a person can carry out at a cognitive level, thus promoting transfer between the two cerebral hemispheres: “it has incredible and effective results at early ages, but it also works with people who begin at the adult stage”.

The development and testing phase of the product has ended for the time being and now they find themselves immersed in work on the precommercial stage of the Sáncal Method. Their business model is subscription-based “like the Netflix model, with an username and password to access personalized content”. There are versions for the end user, music school professionals (such as MUSARTE, in Granada) and therapists who want to impart the method themselves. In Santander, a franchise model for Wellness and Piano&Move centres has already been drafted and is already working at the Marisma Wellness Center in the city.

“The idea is to settle down and work our hardest starting in January, 2019”. Although they have not stopped giving classes in person in the capital of Cantabria, Marián Sánchez indicates that “The grand project” of the Sáncal Method is to be included into the educative framework and to change the paradigm of musical learning: “If its tested and demonstrated as a competitive advantage, the use of music as a tool should be implemented at all school levels. We are figuring out how to get into the system, but every autonomous community has their peculiarities and we want to do it the right way”.

Additional agreements

When, thanks to the Explorer program of Santander Bank, Sánchez and her team travelled to California, they held a meeting with the head of the Neuro-rehabilitation Department at USCF Medical Center in San Francisco. They reached a collaborative pre-agreement, now confirmed in the form of a bracelet with which patients can simulate musical notes with “movements” of an arm that lacks of full mobility. The prototype is still at a pre approval phase.

What’s more, the Sáncal Method has already been implemented in the Hospital Universitario Marqués de Valdecilla in Santander through an investigative project aimed at cancer patients who have suffered the cognitive consequences of the illness. The initiative is endorsed by the Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer (Spanish Association Against Cancer).

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