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Great Information on How Learning an instrument helps the brain

June 26th, 2015 · how the brain works, music and the brain

I am always fascinated about how music affects, shapes and even heals the brain.  Today, one of the wonderful sources of information about all of that is the famous "Ted Talks."  It is common knowledge today that taking music lessons as a child or an adult helps the brain.  If your parents gave you lessons as a child, take every opportunity to thank them.  If they didn't, rush to your local music store or college campus music department and find yourself a private teacher for whatever instrument you always wanted to play!  Keep your brain young and have some fun too!! Here's a TedTalk that will tell you more!  Enjoy!

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Music, Memory and the Brain

May 26th, 2015 · how the brain works, music and alzheimer, music and the brain

As we age, music from our past means more and more to us.  Part of that is the fact that we know more and more music and our inner library of "oldies" keeps growing and expanding.  Have you ever heard a piece of music that you haven't heard in years and years, or even decades?  Have you experienced a flood of visual images; faces, places, conversations, all triggered by that snippet of music?  Music is so powerful in its ability to bring back memories that even Alzheimer's patients who don't recognize family members or friends, can still hear a piece of music from their "Courting Years" and respond positively to that music, sing along, and possibly even reminisce awhile!  It is quite dramatic to see this happen with a patient who has been non-verbal perhaps for months. But even if there is not a disease process going on, music from our past can certainly provide a lot of pleasure and wonderful memories for us; memories that might have been long-forgotten.  Whether you're feeling nostalgic or maybe blue or depressed, music is a quick and simple way to change that, at least temporarily! Recently a study was published, looking at the parts of the brain that are affected by music from your past and the memories that are brought forth.  Here's what they found: "Test subjects went under an fMRI brain scanner and listened to 30 different songs randomly chosen from the Billboard "Top 100" music charts from years when the subjects would have been 8 to 18 years old. They signaled researchers when a certain 30-second music sample triggered any autobiographical memory, as opposed to just being a familiar or unfamiliar song. "This is the first study using music to look at [the neural correlates of] autobiographical memory," Janata told LiveScience. His full study is detailed online this week in the journal Cerebral Cortex. The students also filled out the details of their memories in a survey immediately following the MRI session, explaining the content and clarity of their recollections. Most recognized about 17 out of 30 music samples on average, with about 13 having moderate or strong links with a memory from their lives. Janata saw that tunes linked to the strongest self-reported memories triggered the most vivid and emotion-filled responses – findings corroborated by the brain scan showing spikes in mental activity within the medial prefrontal cortex. The brain region responded quickly to music signature and timescale, but also reacted overall when a tune was autobiographically relevant. Furthermore, music tracking activity in the brain was stronger during more powerful autobiographical memories. This latest research could explain why even Alzheimer's patients who endure increasing memory loss can still recall songs from their distant past."  To see the entire article, go to http://www.livescience.com/5327-music-memory-connection-brain.html . Happy Listening!  

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Music and the Brain: Fountain of Youth?

May 6th, 2015 · music and alzheimer, music and the brain

There is so much wonderful information out there today about the brain and how you can stay young and even reverse aging by using your brain for new tasks, such as foreign language learning, taking up a new musical instrument, or taking new pathways around your town or just your house.  Experts tell us that something as simple as brushing your teeth or hair with the non-dominant hand, can create new neural pathways that are fresh and viable!  Wow!  I remember hearing a professor say that at night you should try not turning on the lights, and finding your way around your house, just by feel and sensory clues other than vision. Music has so many applications for keeping the brain young.  A piano teacher of mine once said that if your really know your music, you should be able to go to the piano in the dark and play your pieces with no light on at all!  That was a radical idea to me, but I tried it!  With no visual cues it is considerably harder, but a good way to test how well you know that music. Of course we know that many blind pianists, who were born blind or who lost their vision at an early age, like Ray Charles, developed their ears and their sense of touch so powerfully that they played as well as sighted pianists.  So...the brain really is an amazing organ, probably still far more powerful than we realize today. When I was working with patients with Alzheimer's disease many years ago, I was constantly amazed at the way they could remember songs and words to songs, when they couldn't tell you their own name or recognize family members and friends.  Alzheimer's is such a cruel and tragic disease, but music is a powerful intervention that can often be quite effective, right up until the end of their life!  There are so many videos on YouTube that show music therapists working with Alzheimer's patients and if you haven't seen them, you should really take a look. As for the Baby Boomers, I really believe we should listen to our popular "oldies" from the 50's, 60's, and 70's.  I know that for me, it brings back floods of memories in a way that is 99% pleasurable and loads of fun, and free!!  Recently I was reminiscing about how I used to race home from school to watch "American Bandstand" and how badly I wanted to be on the show.  My mother said that I could be on it for my 15th birthday, but then, when that came around, she discovered it was broadcast from Philadelphia!  We lived in S.C., so it wasn't going to happen.  Despite that, I still have fond memories of Dick Clark, American Bandstand, and all of the songs that made my youth happy and can do it for me even today!!  I believe that music can definitely be a source of the Fountain of Youth!

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The Musical Brain of Savant, Derek Paravicini

April 3rd, 2015 · music and the brain

Derek Paravicini of London, England, is an amazing musical savant.  He has been followed by doctors and therapists of all kinds since he was born 3 months prematurely over 31 years ago!  He was fortunate to be born into a well-to-do family, who were able to give him every possible advantage. When he was three years old, his parents took him to visit a School for Blind Children in London, and there he happened to hear a piano lesson in progress.  Derek rushed to the sound of the piano and literally pushed the teacher off the bench and started to play the piano with "karate chops," as the teacher described it. https://youtu.be/Ak2jx"mhCH1M Listen as his father and his "piano teacher for life" talk about Derek and the amazing life he has.  It is an inspiring story of a little boy who might have had a very limited life had not the miracle of music taken hold of him!  Enjoy!

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Can Music Rewire the Brain?

March 1st, 2015 · how the brain works, music and the brain

It seems that rewiring the brain is a very popular idea these days!  Over my past decade as a private practice psychotherapist and music medicine practitioner, I've read all the research on how positive affirmations can rewire the brain and I've seen this happen so many times.  We know that the messages we are given my parents, teachers, and caregivers are the messages that we tend to give ourselves as adults.  If those messages were excessively critical or negative, we tend to be overly critical and negative with ourselves.  Doing short but frequent positive statements, such as "I am a good person," "I'm doing the best I can at all times," and "I deserve to be happy," can slowly but surely begin to change the negative thinking, anxiety and depression and actually re-program the brain. BUT, can music do this as well?  According to panel discussion, chaired by renowned music therapist, Concetta Tomaino, RMT-BC, it certainly can!  Tomaino is Executive Director/Co-founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function and Senior Vice President of Music Therapy Services at Beth Abraham Family of Health Services  and a leader in the field of neurologic music therapy.  In the course of this panel discussion, recent research finding were presented and the consensus was that it certainly is possible and actually it happens all the time when musicians practice things over and over. In an article that appeared on the www.laboratoryequipment.com website: "Scientists have found that the brains of professional musicians are physiologically different from the brains of other people, and they got that way mostly because of practice, practice, practice. Training "turbo hands" They can move fast, seemingly faster than humanly possible. For instance, when classical pianist Anna Fedorova plays the popular Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninoff, her fingers and hands will sometimes move so fast they almost cannot be seen. Meanwhile, all ten fingers are hitting every particular key in just the right way and she has all the 26,000 or so notes memorized. Now in her early 20s, she has been practicing the piano since the age of five. Some musicians can play more than one melody at a time. Vladimir Horowitz, as an encore, would often play a piano version of John Phillip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever march, ending with his left hand doing the melody and his right hand, in seemingly impossible counterpoint, doing what is usually the piccolo part, an entirely different melody. It is not just classical pianists who can exhibit opposing or unrelated motions simultaneously. So can jazz musicians like Keith Jarrett, and violinists such as Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Her right hand does the bowing while her left hand modifies the sound of the strings, an entirely different motion, and she can do it at lightning speed. And if it looks as though they are in a trance or autopilot when they are performing, they probably are. How did they get to be able to do that? Yes, practice. Repurposing the hands Repetition of movement helps both the ability to move faster and precisely as well as the multitasking involved in playing some instruments. Musicians are, in a way, fighting nature. The default position of the human hand is holding a rock, not bowing a violin, said Alan Hugh David Watson, a reader in biosciences at Cardiff Univ. in Wales. For one thing, the ability to move with almost superhuman speed is a bit of an optical illusion, Watson said. The musicians surely are going fast, but their fingers are not moving very far, a centimeter or two for the violin, he said. He also said that while piano beginners put a great deal of pressure on the fingers, with practice pianists learn to use only the minimum amount needed for each note, an economy of energy, making it easier for the hands to fly across the keys. It is "absolutely possible" to teach people to move quite fast, said Sharon Levy, who teaches at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. "It's a combination of natural ability, practice and good teaching." It also is possible to train musicians to play two voices simultaneously. In fact, some music was written just to teach children how to do it, including Johann Sebastian Bach's Inventions. The Three-Part Inventions are more complicated than the Two-Part, and those get more complicated as they go on. Bach was the master of the fugue, where one melodic idea, or voice, on one hand is followed by the same idea on the other, only later, like a round. "People can learn to play counterpoint, though they vary in skills," Levy said. “For pianists this is basic. We don't start off with a Bach fugue, of course." Bach even has inversions, with one hand doing one thing and the other the exact opposite. Some people come at it more naturally than others, she said. Nature or nurture? With practice, musicians can eventually perform on autopilot, a trance, or meditation. They are not thinking of what they are playing. "That would screw things up," Watson said. They enter a different realm, and if you sit close enough you can see them do it. Some, like Salerno-Sonnenberg, make inadvertent grimaces while playing. The best example may be the late Glenn Gould, a master of Bach who was clearly in another world when he played, crouched over the keyboard, his mouth moving as he was talking to the keys, gently urging them on. He can occasionally be heard to grunt on his recordings. Jarrett moans and vocalizes as well. Many musicians play with their eyes closed and still never get a wrong note. Watson once saw a woman violinist's neck glow bright red when she played, a condition he called "pre-orgasmic." What is crucial, Watson said, is the kind of practice. Folklore among musicians is that you need 10,000 hours of practice to excel, but Watson said how you practice is more important than how long. It has to be intense and the player single-minded. You are essentially programming your brain to train the muscle memory. You have to play perfectly in practice so the brain knows only one way to play the piece and you don't have to make decisions while you play. "It is incredibly tiring," Watson said. Many break up practice sessions into small pieces and there is scientific evidence that catnaps between sessions actually help imprint the music. "It is clear that sophisticated motor skills are developed only at the expense of a great deal of time and effort," he said. The famous cellist Pablo Casals was once asked why, at the age of 93, he still practiced three hours a day. "I'm beginning to see some improvement," he said."    

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