22 May 2013


I've been an instrumental and vocal musician since I was 6 years old.  My tiny country school, under the guidance of Mr. Perkins, encouraged all early-grade students to participate in the recorder-and-triangle-and-cymbal band (complete with snazzy uniforms).  During this same time, during the school bus ride home from school, I would spontaneously start humming a song I'd heard on the radio (e.g. "The Happy Wanderer"), and gradually my volume would increase until I was singing loud enough to startle birds flying by.  The bus driver, Mr. Green (behind whom I sat, thus affording me a captive audience) would eventually tell me over his shoulder to quiet down.  And the cycle would repeat itself.

Several years and a bigger school later, after mercifully brief attempts at the clarinet and baritone horn, I settled on the Baroque curves and muted sensuality of the French horn, and prospered.  By my senior year in high school, I was performing in no fewer than sixteen different vocal and instrumental ensembles and solos.  The time devoted to rehearsals and concerts (and to girls) distracted me from academics, to the detriment of my GPA.

Performing and listening have continued through college and all my adult life.  I've learned to play classical guitar, dulcimer, djembe, and a tiny bit of keyboards ~ not to mastery, but for my own enjoyment of the process and the transformative power of music.

It turns out that being both a musician and a loving listener may have enhanced my absorption of knowledge and new skills, academic and otherwise.  A recent Memolition set of illustrations demonstrates music's effect on learning with the following observations ~

Music and the brain.  Playing and listening to music works several parts of the brain ~

Ways music improves learning.
  • Listening to music helps recall memories.
  • Listening to music may increase productivity.
  • Playing music increases memory and language skills ~ musicians possess more gray matter, more neural pathways, have greater working memory capacity, and better distinguish between sounds than non-musicians.
Best music to study to.
  • Classical 
  • Jazz
  • Music without repetition
  • Silence
Now, 60 years later, I no longer perform (though nothing is stopping me).  I can accurately replay in memory the complex instrumentation and progressions of entire symphonies or choral works, and I regularly play classical music during my morning workouts.  My two cats approve ~ they both settle into a comfortable repose and appear to go into a trance while listening, usually facing the stereo speakers.  I'm bringing them up right.  And boy, are they smart.

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