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- Music and The Brain
- Connections between brain cells are called synapses. Recent
- research demonstrates that these connections grow stronger
- use and become weaker if they are not used.
- Many systems of the human brain rely on the exchange of
- information across these synapses. The stronger the synapses,
- faster information can be exchanged between brain cells, and
- better the following systems can operate:
- - The sensory and perceptual systems: auditory, visual,
- - The cognitive system: symbolic, linguistic, and reading
- - Body movements: fine and gross muscle action and
- - Feedback and evaluation of actions
- - The motivational and hedonic (pleasure) system
- - Memory and recall of facts learned
- Brain scans taken during musical performances show that
- the entire cerebral cortex (central processing area of the
- active while musicians are performing. Almost every system
- the brain is at work simultaneously during a music
- and brain cells are rapidly sending messages. The "workout"
- the brain experiences during a musical performance strengthens
- connections between brain cells, allowing the brain to
- more efficiently.
- How can music-making engage the entire brain? Consider
- steps involved in taking a piece of music from notes on a page
- sound. This process includes interpreting complex symbols
- sending messages quickly to muscles to adjust the fingers,
- vocal mechanisms. Musicians have to plan ahead so their
- bows, or mallets are in the right place to play the next note,
- singers and wind instrument players need enough air to
- long notes and phrases. During practice, musicians review
- performance and make corrections and changes.
- While solo musicians engage in the processes above,
- performing in an ensemble (chorus, band, orchestra, or
- group) utilize even more brain systems. Ensemble musicians
- interpret and act upon the conductor's gestures at the same
- they are reading music symbols from the page. They also have
- balance their own sound with the sound of other musicians.
- "ensemble processes" entail a split-second procedure of
- and adjustment that each musician repeats countless times
- Music making offers extensive exercise for brain cells and
- synapses (connections). It would be difficult to find
- activity that engages so many of the brain's systems.
- between brain cells strengthen with use just as muscles do,
- there is good reason to believe that music making increases
- brain's capacity by improving these synapses.
- Source: "The Music in Our Minds" by Norman M. Weinberger.
Published in Educational Leadership, Vol. 56, No. 3: November
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