Musician’s Brain Webinar

Something different for this blog  – a post to be listened to, not read.  On March 11,  I presented a webinar for the College Music Society titled A Musician’s Guide to the Brain: What We Need to Know and Why.  This was the second in a series of webinars hosted by the CMS Committee on Musicians’ Health.  If you click on the link embedded in the title, you can watch the archived version of the webinar.  The archived quality isn’t quite up to the excellent streaming quality of the original, but the content is all there. Continue reading

Music, language, and babies

Credit: © zinkevych/Fotolia.com

Credit: © zinkevych/Fotolia.com

Within days of my last post about babies and interactive music classes, a study came out saying literally the same thing about babies and language – that interaction with a parent is key to language development for babies just as the interactive music making was crucial in developing music skills for babies.

Researchers have known for years that reading to infants as young as six months is crucial for language development, and that parents who consciously babble with their babies accelerate language learning.   But they haven’t been sure what it is about reading to infants that helps develop language. Continue reading

New year – new musical beginnings

Credit: © Noam/Fotolia.com

Credit: © Noam/Fotolia.com

What better way to begin the new year than by talking about new lives and musical beginnings!  Babies and music are a source of endless fascination – and the subject of a lot of research.  We know that babies like to be sung to (think lullabies), they like bouncing or waving their arms when they hear music, they like toys that make musical sounds, and if musical toys aren’t available, they find their own musical instruments.

Newborns have a wide range of musical abilities, some of which I’ve written about in  Are we hardwired for music?    Now a recent study from McMaster University shows that babies benefit from musical training even before they can walk or talk.  One-year old babies who participated with their parents in interactive music classes communicated better, showed more sophisticated brain responses to music, and even smiled more.    Continue reading

Seeing Ives

You are the music while the music lasts.      T.S. Eliot

I once heard a masterclass in which the artist teacher spoke about the necessity of memorizing the choreography of the piece as well as the notes. I confess that, prior to that class, I hadn’t Beethoventhought much about choreography of music – except in relationship to dance. But since then, I have thought about it a great deal.

And recently, in an extraordinary concert by pianist Jeremy Denk and violinist Stefan Jackiw , choreography of the music took on new meaning. It is rare to witness a performance in which you feel as though you are actually “seeing” the music itself – not just hearing it – but experiencing a performance in which the performer actually becomes the music in some indefinable way. Continue reading

Stress, sleep, and performance

 Any musician who performs has been in the position of having to play a concert with too little sleep.  We may be traveling and don’t sleep well in hotels.  Or perhaps a Tiredperforming opportunity has popped up unexpectedly and the only way to have the music learned and memorized is to work well into the night. Students are known to cut sleep in order to try to accommodate all of the other demands of university life.  Occasionally sleep-deprived performances are unexpectedly good. More than one pianist has told me that because she was so tired, the critical, judgmental voice in her head that often monitors performances was less active and she more easily entered a flow state.  But more likely, we musicians don’t talk about the performances that didn’t go well when the reason was lack of sleep.   Continue reading

Neuroplasticity and making music

Most of us enter the world with the ability to hear sounds, and we don’t remember the process of learning to differentiate one sound from another or learning that certain sounds or sequences of sounds communicate thoughts, ideas, emotions. We learn to hear and respond to language without being aware that we are doing so. But if we learn a second language at a later time, we are well aware of the struggle to match sounds with meanings and context.  But what if you had to relearn how to decipher all sounds, whether it’s the doorbell or the sounds of your native language? Continue reading