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Music and Brain Function

January 9, 2016

music-brain-mindGuest Blog by Caroline Storey, South Coast Hypnotherapy

“I love our brains. I love how they work, and how they are all so different. I love how, although we know lots about our brain functions, there is so much more we cannot yet explain. (You know, those things like knowing someone is looking at you when they’re behind you, and knowing who it is on the telephone just before they ring).

I also love how music affects our brains. I would even be so bold to say that music makes us clever!

Music Makes Us Clever!

When you play a musical instrument, you take on a lot of new skills, both physically and mentally. I play violin to a fairly high standard, and have ukulele and piano as my ‘back-up-have-a-go-entertainment’ instruments, with kit drums and clarinet as my ‘will having extra music lessons get me out of sport’ instruments whilst at school. I was seven when I started learning the violin, and if you know how short I am now, I’m sure you can imagine how dinky I was then!

So there I was, with a half size violin on my left arm, not able to fully stretch and reach to play an A on the D string (for those who don’t play violin, which I know is most, this is one of the first introductions to different positions on the violin, and is pretty key). My violin teacher flopped his hair out of his eyes in exasperation and said, “Right. This isn’t going to work. You’re too little. Try again in a few years.”

Well, having already been firmly asked to leave gymnastics due to being “a danger to myself and others” because of general clutziness, I was NOT going to give up on violin. I mean, this was an INSTRUMENT. Only two people from each year group got funding to play violin, so I wasn’t going to give up now. I went home. And I practised. And I practised. I stretched my fingers out along the fingerboard until I got cramp, until eventually I could reach the A. I went back to the lesson the next week, and proudly showed my violin teacher my squeaky A, perfectly in tune, albeit not very pretty sounding at that stage, and was allowed to stay, which I did with that lovely teacher for 9 years.

Neurological Links Through Learning Music

Music and Brain FunctionLet’s look closer at what happened to my brain. First of all, I had to learn the basics of finger placement creating a neurological link with the sound that placement created, in other words, making sure an A sounded like an A.

There were elements of

  • visual (does it look as if it’s in the right place?)
  • spatial (are my fingers far enough apart, can my finger stretch that far, is my elbow tucked in enough?)
  • kinaesthetic  (am I comfortable, does it feel right?) and
  • audiological (is that an A that I am actually playing?) learning there.

Imagine, placing one little finger on a finger board meant that I learnt in four different ways, all at the same time!  And each of those four ways made connections with each other in the brain, so playing an A in first position lead to at least 64 new neurological connections being made. These neurological connections branched across both the left and right sides of the brain due to them encompassing so many different elements, and so crossed the corpus collosum, which is the thick elastic white bit that joins two parts of the cauliflower-looking brain together. The more connections you have crossing your corpus collosum, the stronger it becomes.

The stronger it becomes, the quicker you can access both parts of the brain. This means that if both left and right parts of the brain work together quickly, you have

  • much better problem solving skills
  • better memory retrieval
  • a more logical clear way of thinking, including
  • better language skills
  • a healthier brain as you get older
  • with less chance of memory loss.

All of that, just from learning to play an A.”


About the author

Caroline Storey is owner of South Coast Hypnotherapy, a cognitive hypnotherapy practice to help you understand your mind and make it work the way you want it to.

Contact her on change@southcoasthypnotherapy.net for a no-pressure chat to see how we can help.

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