Music and the Mind

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday.

Music Brain

I was forwarded a YouTube clip by a coworker recently with a message that simply stated, “This video made me think of you 😊.” The video, Music and the Mind, discusses the unique and powerful benefits that playing a musical instrument has on brain functioning. We have programed ourselves to be very different from our non-musician counterparts by simply engaging in musical learning (those hours spent in the practice room were more important than we originally thought!). This made me think about some of the other myths, legends, and verifiable facts about music and the mind and just how many may be true and worth understanding a bit better. I think our students would value their lessons more if they knew exactly what benefits learning about music has in many other aspects of their daily lives. Today’s blog is a review of some of the best YouTube videos covering the topic of music and the mind. How can we use our passion to impact the way we process everything around us? How exactly does litening to and performing music influence our minds? How can music unlock the potential and creatively buried deep within our brains?

Music Brain 2

  1. Music and the Mind – In this video, Anita Collins explains that performing music incites numerous processes in the brain that all fire at the same time. For example, visual skills are required to read the score, auditory skills to hear and evaluate our sound, and motor cortexes help us form the physical demands necessary to create pitches on different instruments. Playing music combines neurological responses from the left (logical) and right (creative) hemispheres of the brain simultaneously. Like an internet search engine, musicians are also programed to give memories multiple tags (pitch, tone, interpretation, physical demands of performing, etc.). Finally, what I found most interesting in this video is that musicians are known to have highly defined executive functions associated with planning, strategizing, and paying painstakingly close attention to detail. This explains so much! Bottom line – we are different. Our brains are hardwired differently due to the type of art we create.

  1. Music and the Brain – Jessica Grahn discusses the effects that listening to music has on brain functioning, particularly in patients suffering from Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease. I find this very interesting and am fascinated by the connection between music and physical or mental conditions. There is a powerful healing power that music provides on a very personal and individual basis. Even when our minds may be mostly gone, the tags that we place on certain pieces help us recall memorizes buried deep within our pasts. Music is a natural antidepressant. For patients suffering from Dementia, music helps recall memories that may otherwise be lost, often providing closer connections with family members. Parkinson’s patients respond not only to the mood enhancing effects of music but typically use rhythm and beat patterns to improve physical motor functioning.

  1. Unlocking Music with Neuroscience – In this presentation, Ardon Shorr explains how our brains understand music using processes such as mental chunking. The problem that many non-musicians have with classical music, for example, is that there is too much information happening at once that is often very difficult to understand. Too many symbols! However, when we begin to understand how much of music is organized based on structure and the simple intro-tension-release pattern, it becomes less of a puzzle and more of an expression of emotion.

  1. This is your Brain on Music – This video further addresses the correlation between music, the mind, and physical functioning. Many of us have been told that music effects both the left and right hemispheres of the brain, however in reality it effects all parts of the brain. This is why runners can run faster and body builders pump harder while listening to upbeat music – The constant pulse keeps them going. Because of it’s incredible influence on the brain, music has significant health benefits and is often considered as a type of medicine. Listening to a familiar piece that you love releases dopamine, a natural anti-depressant. Sad music also has healing effects on depressed individuals, making them feel not so alone, particularly if the lyrics help them relate to their present circumstances. This releases the chemical prolactin which is a soothing hormone. Listening to pleasurable music also reduces cortisol levels in the body regulating mood and energy levels. Finally, it is suggested that creating a playlist based on what you are doing helps you improve performance. I actually used to do this in high school to study for final exams (Creedence Clearwater for American History, Yanni for Math, Mozart for English, and Pearl Jam for Science). Try it out!

  1. Music on the Brain – Like some of the videos we have examined thus far, this video discusses the effects of music on memories, particularly those of Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Music is considered a “side door” to the brain, connecting people to buried memories. For those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, music helps to alive agitation and encourages relaxation and calmness using personalize playlists. Experiments have been conducted showing exactly which parts of the brain are activated when listening to personalized music and, as they explain on this video, “when most of the brain is gone, music can wake it up.” Emotion and memory are often intertwined and, as you can see, music activates both.

  1. How to Learn Anything 10X Faster – The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle Animated Book Review – Okay, so I’m cheating a bit here. This video is actually based on a fabulous book by Daniel Coyle called The Talent Code. The narrator of the video summarizes some of the key aspects of the book with very straight-forward and easy to understand animations. The Talent Code explains that whenever we learn a new skill, the neurons in our brain fire in a particular sequence while a substance called myelin wraps around our nerves to lock in that pattern (I like to think of it like electrical tape). The best way to produce myelin is through deep practice. To achieve deep practice, you must break tasks into smaller units (similar to the way that Ardon Shorr explained in Unlocking Music with Neuroscience), slow complicated tasks down so that you can focus on all of the details, repetition, and practicing at the edge of your ability. Don’t just go for pieces you know you can play. Challenge yourself to produce more myelin by playing the hard stuff! This book is fantastic and I highly recommend you read the entire book after watching this video summary. If you are pressed for time, the book is also available as an audiobook on The Talent Code encourages us to practice by using our mind as the most important tool to lock in lessons learned in the practice room.


Do you have a favorite video discussing music and the mind not listed here? What do you think about the connection between music, memory, and brain functioning? How do you think musician’s brains are different? How do you process memories differently than your non-musician colleagues. Please comment below!


Happy fluting!


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