Music is one of the oldest art forms known by humankind. While it might be difficult, maybe impossible, to know how prehistoric music sounded, we do know it was around. Throughout history, it has been used for entertainment, magic, rituals and religion among many other functional and non-functional practices. The Spanish start-up Sancal Method (Método Sáncal) is using music as a tool for developing cognitive abilities.

The powerful effect that music is able to have on the brain is well-known. For example, music can help with memory, pain reduction or stress relief. Although music goes beyond the act of just listening; playing it also counts. This young start-up is working under the principle that learning to play a musical instrument is one activity that can have the biggest impact on our brain. As such, it has the power to develop and strengthen the brain. This might not represent anything new on its own. Yet when it is combined with the digital technology developed by the start-up, it is possible to not only track cognitive development of people through music, but also to help those suffering from cognitive disorders or diseases that affect these functions, e.g. cancer.

Innovation Origins discusses the start-up with musician and co-founder of the Sancal Method, Marián Sánchez Calderón.

What is the Sancal Method?  

Well, the Sancal Method is a real revolution in the field of cognitive training. Cognitive abilities are those abilities which actually make us human beings: perception, attention, memory and language, executive function and coordination. We are exposed nowadays to a highly changeable world with a lot of input and stimuli which our cognitive systems are not sufficiently ready for in evolutionary terms. That’s why we have data that shows that more than 1/3 of the population suffers some kind of cognitive disorder and that this is not only related to people with dementia. We have more neurodevelopmental disorders in children and more stress and anxiety as we age. Part of the problem is that we don’t have a pharmacological alternative and current therapies are going to be obsolete for more and more highly-trained people.

Why music? 

Because it is the activity that has the greatest impact on a neurological level. Thanks to neuroimaging, we know that it is the only activity capable of modifying certain brain areas, optimizing our brain and taking it to another level. Learning music, in short, makes us better.

So, we have transformed this latest scientific knowledge into a business proposal through two innovative processes: the design of a multidisciplinary methodology (based on learning music) and the development of an intelligent online platform.

How did you come up with this idea? 

I studied music and architecture, and I taught piano for more than 10 years. During my Masters, I gave piano lessons to a group of older adults, and it was then that I realized that this process was giving them more than just musical knowledge. It meant a significant improvement in their health as well, they felt better, and they achieved a finer quality of life. So, I looked for scientific evidence on that. That was when I discovered the scientific angle in neuroscience and music on which Sáncal Method is based.

Can you describe Método Sáncal in 3 words?

Neuroscience, Music, and Technology.

®Método Sáncal

How do you combine music and technology? 

Thanks to our methodology, in which all of our content is based exclusively on learning to play music. Moreover, all content is especially composed in order to train each cognitive ability. Running this content though an online intelligent platform will help with optimizing improvement in each particular person. The user just has to connect a digital piano keyboard (which can cost as little as €50) to a computer with a MIDI USB and then log in to access all of the personalized programs.

In the beginning, the user goes through a “Welcome package” in which we evaluate their cognitive capacity and cognitive needs. With this data, our platform chooses the best content for them using predictive models. We evaluate the user again every 5 months in order to show any relative improvements. We monitor the entire process so that way we are able to optimize the program for each particular person.

Who is using the Sancal Method? 

We are currently focusing on the healthcare field, working with older adults in order to delay neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers. Along with oncological patients who have cognitive disorders. By working with them, they are then able reverse these cognitive losses which have been caused by the toxicity of their treatments. We train therapists in our methodology, and any prior musical knowledge is not necessary. They become Sancal Experts and when they are licensed for this, are able to treat those in palliative care in their centers (hospital, clinics …)

In the meantime, we would like to enter into the field of education too.  As we want not only to treat someone when they have a disease, but also help prevent these diseases early on. In schools, our tool can teach them that playing the piano not only teaches them music, but at the same time optimizes their neurodevelopmental process. This will give them a competitive advantage in the future.

What makes Método Sáncal different from other similar startups? 

We are the only cognitive training platform whose content is based on learning to play music using the piano. This make a big difference, because we use the activity which has the most impact on the brain.

Did you design the technology behind Método Sáncal? 

Yes, we did. We are a multidisciplinary team made up of musicians, engineers, developers and neuropsychologists, so we were able to develop the technology and the content in a multidisciplinary way. This is very important in order to achieve excellence in our work; it is a very enriching process. We use the Artificial Intelligent so as to improve peoples’ lives.

®Método Sáncal

What has been the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome during the whole Método Sáncal process? 

Entrepreneurship is a difficult process, and even more so in the healthcare field I would dare say. We have formed a multidisciplinary team and we began in-house, because we believed that we could create something that is very good for society. It was very difficult to break through into the medical field in the beginning. The most difficult thing was generating the confidence necessary in order to be able to enter this sector.

Was there a moment when you thought of giving up?

Well, entrepreneurship is a bit of a roller coaster. Many times, you’re really up, but many others you are completely down and those are difficult times. We have been fortunate in having genuine users since we founded the company. Seeing improvements every day is the engine that keeps pushing us forward.

Can you tell me your fondest memory during the whole Sancal Method process? 

The first time a user told us that we had changed her life after 5 months of using the Sancal Method. She was a 38-year-old woman who had suffered a very pronounced cognitive decline after overcoming breast cancer. When she started using the Sancal Method, we managed to help her reverse that affliction in its entirety.

What can we expect from the coming years?

We aim to establish ourselves in the healthcare market and begin our journey into the education market when it comes to the optimization of school performance. In the long run, we want to be the reference in the cognitive training market on an international level. 

Can you tell me a bit about the feedback you’ve gotten?

We have a dropout rate of less than 5% and our patients are delighted with the platform. In fact, many times after months of treatment, they continue to use the platform because they love it. And for us, that’s a dream come true. We are also staring to get a very good reception as far as the professionals are concerned. It is something that’s very innovative and they are becoming more and more aware of the potential of the tool.

What is your ultimate goal? 

To change the paradigm regarding music education. It is a tool with which we can achieve an evolutionary leap in our cognitive development and in our neurological optimization. When we learned how to read and write, our brain evolved. We can take a similar step by learning to play music from an early age. Musicians have larger and faster brains, and now we are able to bring about a change in the general population.

This way we will be able to live longer, and more importantly, live better.

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