Alameda MTAC

Alameda MTAC
18 April 2022

Why Should Musicians Know About the Brain?

Neuroscientists have discovered a great deal of information over the past 30 years about how the brain processes music.  This presentation discusses two key areas that are of importance to music teachers:  1) the musical abilities of babies and what that might suggest in terms of how and when we begin the study of music, and 2)  the brain processes for learning and memory and the best practice strategies that lead to strong wiring in the brain.  Below are materials that are either referred to in the presentation or are related to what was discussed.

Musical Abilities of Infants

Blog posts
See the following blog posts for more information on musical abilities of babies:

Are we hardwired for music?
Should everyone be able to make music if we’re hardwired for it?
New Year – new musical beginnings
Music, language, and babies


I didn’t link to any of the videos of babies moving to music that we saw in the presentation, but if you’re interested, do a Google Videos search for “dancing babies.”  You will find about 6 million videos to watch.

Three-year old Kazuma playing Taiko

5-yr old Isaiah Chevrier playing djembe

Isaiah Chevrier at 4 months.   If you watch Isaiah at 4 months, and then at 5 years old, you see the importance of parental or caregiver involvement in making music with an infant.

Articles discussed in presentation

Brandt, A., Gebrian, M., & Slevc, L. R. (2012).  Music and early language acquisition.  Frontiers in Psychology. .   If you have time to read only one article, read this one.

Curwen, Annie Jessy, 1898, Music TeachingThe Parents’ Review, Vol. 9, no. 7. Wonderful article written by a piano teacher in 1898.

Gerry, D, Unrau, A, and Trainor, LJ (2012). Active music classes in infancy enhance musical, communicative and social developmentDevelopmental Science, 15(3), 398-407.

Hannon, E. E., & Trehub, S. E. (2005). Tuning in to musical rhythms: Infants learn more readily than adults.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 102, 12639-12643.

Hannon, E. E., & Trehub, S. E. (2005). Metrical categories in infancy and adulthoodPsychological Science16, 48-55.

Winkler, I., (2009).  Newborn infants detect the beat in music.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(7).

Zentner, M., & Eerola, T. (2010).  Rhythmic engagement with music in infancy.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(13).

Edwin GordonNational Conference for Keyboard Pedagogy Keynote, 2015.  Gordon believed all humans have a potential for music achievement, that we are born with varying degrees of aptitude for music and that we develop this aptitude through audiation, or the ability to “think in music.”  He  was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the National Conference for Keyboard Pedagogy in summer 2015.  Ill health prevented him from being there, but his talk was read in his absence and is linked here.

Learning and Memory

For more information about subjects covered in this section of the presentation, go to Categories in the right-hand column of this blog site, and scroll down to  Neuroplasticity, Learning and memory, Memory, Practice, Music cognition, Sleep and Exercise. There are many posts related to these toipics.

And below are books, articles, videos and websites that I mentioned during the presentation, and some I didn’t mention but that may be of interest:


Flippy Cat.  Starry Night

Barry Douglas, winner of the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition.


Allen, S. (2012).  Memory Stabilization and Enhancement Following Music PracticePsychology of Music, 41(6), 794-803.

Cedernaes J. et. al. (2015). Short Sleep Makes Declarative Memories Vulnerable to Stress in Humans.  Sleep, 38(12), 1861-1868.

van Dongen, E.V., et. al. (2016).  Physical Exercise Performed Four Hours after Learning Improves Memory Retention and Increases Hippocampal Pattern Similarity during Retrieval.  Current Biology, 26(13),1722-1727.


Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, Mark McDaniel.  2014.  Make it Stick: the science of successful learning

Benedict Carey.  2014.  How We Learn:  the surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens
Neither the Peter Brown nor Benedict Carey books are about music, but musicians can make use of the information.  Both look at recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and other disciplines to show how much we think we know about learning is wrong.  Both give techniques for more productive learning and memory.

Roger Chaffin, Gabriela Imreh, and Mary Crawford.  2012.  Practicing Perfection:  Memory and Piano Performance.    Part of a research series intended for both psychologists and musicians, this book details how an experienced pianist organizes practice, identifies stages in learning, characteristics of expert practice, and practice strategies.

Daniel Coyle.  2009.  The Talent Code:  greatness isn’t born. it’s grown. here’s how
This book is about extraordinary levels of talent, and how they occur.  Coyle is really talking about the myelination of axons in the brain, although he rarely mentions the term.

Kay S. Hooper.  2005.  Sensory Tune-ups: a guided journal of sensory experiences for performers of all ages.    The journal provides a guide for exploring and developing the kinesthetic, visual and auditory senses, to incorporate them more fully  in learning and performing.

Daniel Levitin.  2006.  This is Your Brain on Music:  the science of a human obsession. The best-selling book about how we experience music and why it plays such a unique role in our lives.

Julie Jaffee Nagel.  Nagel has two degrees in piano from Juilliard and a PhD in psychology from the Univ. of Michigan.  In her clinical practice, she works with musicians suffering from performance anxiety as well as other issues.  Her book, Managing Stage Fright: a guide for musicians and music teachersis an invaluable resource for teachers who want to know how to help their students address performance anxiety.  You can also access her blog on performance anxiety through her website.

Rebecca Shockley.  1997.  Mapping Music: for faster learning and secure memory
Written for piano teachers and students, but the ideas apply to any musician.

Websites     Website developed by Rebecca Shockley and flutist Melissa Colgin about visual mapping for music.