Music in a frame

On a cold Friday morning in January 2007, a young man in jeans, T-shirt and baseball cap entered the Washington Metro at the L-Enfant Plaza station during the middle of rush hour, opened a violin case, took out his violin, and began to play – nothing unusual about that scenario since musicians frequent Metro stops on many mornings.  For the next 43 minutes, this violinist played 6 pieces, including works by Bach, Schubert, and Massenet.

Of the 1097 people who passed by during that 43 minutes, only a handful stopped even briefly to listen or to throw some money into the open case at the musician’s feet.  Everyone was in a hurry to get to work and couldn’t be bothered to stop.   By now, most of you may know the story I’m referring to, but in case you don’t, or want to see where this post is going, . . .   Continue reading

Musicians and hearing loss

No doubt you have, on occasion, noticed teenagers congregating (some would say loitering) in shopping malls, outside of movie theaters or convenience stores, or in parking lots.  In 2005,  after his 17-yr old daughter was bullied and harassed by a gang of teens outside a local convenience store, a man in Wales named Howard Stapleton came up with an idea to solve the problem.  He invented a device emitting a high frequency that could be mounted outside the shop.   The sound would be so annoying to teenagers that they would leave rather than congregate outside. 

The sound was at a frequency of 17 kHz, which teens could hear,  but adults could not because most people lose the ability to hear higher frequencies after their early 20s.  So because adults could not hear the sound, they would do their shopping in peace.  Teenagers who came to buy something would shop and leave, rather than submit themselves to the obnoxious sound by congregating outside.    Nicknamed the Mosquito, the device has been sold throughout Europe and in the US, has been praised and promoted by many police departments, but is also in the crosshairs of several civil rights organizations.*
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Making music with brain waves

Imagine that you have been singing all your life.  You’re not a professional, but you sing with the elementary school students in your fifth-grade class, you conduct a church choir, and you’re good.  You have a nice voice, you can sing in tune and finding the right pitch is never a problem.  Suddenly one day, everything changes.  You can no longer find the correct pitches for a familiar song.  You can hear them in your mind, and you can hear that you are singing not only out of tune, but hitting totally wrong notes – but you can’t fix it.  You’re bewildered about what’s happening, and panic sets in. Continue reading

Executive functions: Why study music, part IIIa

It’s been a long time since my last post and this one is a continuation, so if you’re new to this blog, or if you don’t remember the previous post about the importance of learning a musical instrument for developing executive function skills, you may want to re-read it before continuing here.

Briefly, the three key areas of executive function are inhibition (being able to control attention, behavior, and emotions); working memory (important for critical thinking and reasoning); and cognitive flexibility (seeing things from different perspectives – thinking “outside the box”).  Reasoning, problem solving and planning are all built on these three key areas of executive function.

And adults and children who have studied music have been shown to have stronger executive function skills.  Which brought us to the question at the end of the previous post:  did these children and adults gravitate towards studying music because they already had stronger EF skills, or did studying music promote those skills?  Another researcher may have the answer.

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Executive functions: Why study music, part III

Most of us have more to do than time to do it.  We juggle family and job responsibilities, friends, household management, social media, errands, plus a great deal more.  And for those of us who are musicians, we’re always trying to find practice time at our instrument.   How well we’re able to manage the competing demands in our lives and actually get things done depends on a set of cognitive processes under the umbrella term of executive function.

Good executive function (EF) makes it possible for us to manage ourselves and our resources – to prioritize, stay focused on the task at hand, manage our time, think before acting, be flexible and creative when the unexpected occurs, and maintain some semblance of emotional control when someone challenges us and we may feel like striking back in an inappropriate way.

Good executive function has been found to predict school readiness and success in school at all grade levels, even more than IQ.  And significantly for this series of posts about “why study music,” numerous studies have shown that learning to play a musical instrument and studying music improves executive functioning not only in children but also in adults.   Continue reading

Music and math: Why study music, part II

Math teachers have often noticed that students who are good in math have studied, or are studying, music.  In the past, it was assumed that the kind of discipline necessary to excel in playing a musical instrument would extend to other academic areas, leading to excellence in those areas as well.  But some researchers looked at the math-music relationship and wondered if something other than discipline may be involved.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, people have been fascinated with the relationship between music and mathematics.  Pythagoras (died 500 B.C.) is considered by some to be the founder of both math and music – famous for his theorum on triangles in mathematics, but also for developing the concept of intervals in music  (link from Physics of Music course, George Gibson, University of Connecticut).

The relationship between math and music has been written about by philosophers, poets, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, and others.  Currently, there are dozens of books in print on the subject, ranging from historical perspectives to explorations of acoustical, theoretical, physical, or analytical relationships.

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