How music enhances our brain capacity

Learning and playing music is not only enjoyable, sociable, and expressive — it also develops our brains. A quick and fun summary of how this works can be viewed in a short animated video from TED-Ed-Lessons.

The video discusses neuroscientific research from the past few decades, which has revealed connections between activities and brain activity in real time. Scientists have found that each activity seems to have a corresponding location of the brain, where those efforts are processed.

Listening to music, however, appears to fire up multiple areas across the brain simultaneously, and even more brain activity among those who actually play music. The process of playing music results in intricate, complex, and incredibly fast signals in all parts of the brain, especially, auditory, motor, and visual centers. Regular musical practice appears to strengthen those brain functions, allowing musicians to apply them to all sorts of activities.

In particular, playing and practicing music increases  Continue reading How music enhances our brain capacity

Tuning the Violin

In the last 3 posts we’ve looked at ideas for playing in tune.  Now we get to the part that has nothing to do with playing skills:  tuning the violin itself.  It’s kind of a necessary evil.  If you could have a self-tuning violin, and never learned how to tune it yourself, it wouldn’t affect your ability to play music.  (If you’re an inventor, get cracking!)strings4tuning

The most useful skill is to be able to tune your violin by ear, but even if you use an electronic tuner there are a few techniques everyone needs to know, so we’ll discuss both approaches — how to use the pegs and the universal ability to match pitches.  This is a pretty detailed explanation, so you may already know some of it; hopefully some of it will fill in some gaps or give you something to think about in a new way.

I once tried tuning a violin exclusively with an electronic tuner, and it took me a lot longer than doing it by ear.  The reason is that the eyes, and all the mental processing they require, are a lot slower than the ears.  This is true in tuning, in playing, in reading music, in watching your fingers, in watching other people’s fingers — sometimes the eyes just get in the way of muscle movement that’s going to happen with or without them, and other times the eyes just require more thought, attention, processing, to get something done, than the ears do.

Playing a violin that’s in tune is like starting on a level playing field.  If it’s out of tune, everything else has to adjust to make the music come out right, and that’s just not fair!

Electronic Tuner

We’ll start by talking about the electronic tuner.  Continue reading Tuning the Violin

Playing Music is Healing

Music heals.  It is widely used in therapy, it soothes the moods of people round the world, and the act of playing music generates endorphins that make a player feel better.

Music therapy has been used for many years for its multi-sensory expression.  Studies about neurological development support its use to draw out feelings and concerns of patients.  It was found to be particularly effective with traumatized children after World War II.  Therapists use many methods to work with people, including moving to music, listening, playing on instruments, body percussion, singing, and songwriting.
In the 1930s, my mother studied piano from a man named Moissaye Boguslawski, who had grand notions of what music could do to heal people.  He believed, ahead of his times, that music could cure antisocial behavior and treat memory loss.  A prominent concert pianist with various symphonies, he insisted on playing regular piano concerts at the Cook County Hospital for the Insane, a place in Chicago commonly called Dunning, which doubled as an insane asylum and a poorhouse.  Boguslawski was convinced that music had healing effects on people suffering in that institution.

Continue reading Playing Music is Healing

Your Brain and Music

Daniel Levitin wrote an interesting book called This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. He examines scientific observations about how music affects our brains and vice versa. It’s especially fascinating when you think about learning to play music.

I’d like to mention here just a few interesting points raised in the book–about practicing, ear training, and the effect of music lessons on brain development.

Levitin describes an experiment where researchers tried to define “talent.”  They examined music students who were regarded as most talented, and invariably found that those students who were the best musicians had practiced significantly more than the others. “Talent” seems to be a word people apply retrospectively to someone who has accomplished something in music already.

Some argue that practice is everything. Apparently everyone who has been considered world-class in their field of expertise, whether music, writing, chess, math, crime–any expertise–was found to have put in at least 10,000 hours of practice in that field of expertise. Levitin points this out as part of a debate about how patterns are developed in neural pathways, but also discusses the impact of caring and enjoying an activity on brain chemistry and on the success of building good physical and artistic memory.

This brings up a motto I made up:  “The more you play, the better you get.  The more efficiently you play, the faster you get better.”

Ear training

Continue reading Your Brain and Music

Shoring Up Your Brain with Music!

Science tells us that learning and playing music develops our brains in ways that no other activity does.  Regardless of how good you get at your instrument, your brain is getting a lot out of it!musicbrain

For a quick and fun summary of the neurological benefits of music, take a look at this short animated video from TED.  It was written by Anita Collins, who has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Music Education.  More about this little video below.

There’s also an interesting online resource about the latest brain research as it’s related to music.  You can find it on Facebook at this link.  One project noted there reveals that MIT researchers just published findings that certain neurons in our brains are tuned in specifically to processing the sound of music, suggesting that music may have played an important role in the evolution of the human nervous system.  Taken together with the finding of musical instruments from as far back as 70,000 years ago, it’s clear that music is essential to human society.  (Note: another interesting online article about the brain and music can be found here.)

The short video from TED that’s linked above is based on neuroscientific research from the past few decades.  Scientists have been exploring, in real time, the correlation between things we do and activity in different parts of the brain.

Continue reading Shoring Up Your Brain with Music!