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8 Surprising Benefits of Music Improvisation

8 Surprising Benefits of Music Improvisation

Tossing out your sheet music, and winging it with a song, is like turning off your GPS and trying to find your own way home – it can seem scary and intimidating at first (seriously, how did people live before GPS technology?), but once you step out of your comfort zone, you may find it even more rewarding than playing off the page!

Learning how to improvise can give you more than just the fun of going off the beaten trail; it also has many benefits that can help you become a better musician. Start with short improvisation sessions at home, and work your way up to longer playing times, you’re sure to notice a boost to your musical prowess. Check out the numerous ways that improvising in music enhances your musical skills.

1. It trains your ears

An important component of being a musician is being able to hear the music. Oftentimes, students are only taught how to read and reproduce music; but the art is much more involved than moving your fingers across the keys in a certain rhythm.

Hearing the notes, and understanding how they work together, makes the tasks of playing and understanding music theory easier on students. Improvising trains your ear to hear and identify whether you’re producing the sounds you intended, or not. As students get better at this, it can also help them compose their own pieces in the future.

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2. It helps you recognize patterns and scales

When warming up, students often play scales from bottom to top; or, top to bottom. When music students get into a cycle of remembering which note follows another, they often fail to recognize how all the other notes on the scale interact in a musical piece.

Think about the way you remember the alphabet, by singing the letters in a particular order – without singing the ABC song, can you identify whether J or H comes first? When it comes to a piece of music, it’s helpful to know how different notes sound together, whether they sit next to each other on the scale or not. Improvising helps refine scale, chord, and arpeggio concepts. It helps hone a student’s overall musical understanding.

3. It teaches students to think ahead

When students read off a piece of sheet music, it’s easy to get caught up in a habit of reading note by note, as they play each note. This often results in slowing down the student’s playing, causing frustration.

Improvising teaches you to plan for what’s coming next, and think about the song as a flowing, unified piece, instead of a collection of single notes. It doesn’t just make it easier to anticipate what’s to come; it teaches students to think ahead, so that when they’re reading sheet music, they can read it faster, and stay on the beat.

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4. It allows for self-expression

Music is meant to be a form of expression; a form of communicating emotions. Students tend to focus more on reproducing the sounds written on the page than creating emotion with their instruments. Improvisation interrupts the cycle of reproducing; helping students express their emotions, hone their talents, and develop their unique musical voices.

In one study, researchers monitored the brain activity of musicians in both “play-from-memory” and improvised scenarios. They found that in when playing from memory, areas of the brain associated with problem-solving lit up. In the improvised scenarios, brain areas associated with self-expression, making up stories, and recounting memories were more active.

Essentially, the areas of the brain that were active during improvisation weren’t active when musicians played songs from memory. This suggests that it’s beneficial to incorporate both types of play into a student’s learning experience. This helps them become more well-rounded musicians.

5. It fosters creativity

Improvising is all about composing on the spot. It’s completely up to the student where to take the music next, giving them an outlet to work creatively with music. Creativity itself, whether through music or other art forms, comes with its own slew of benefits; studies have shown that exercising creativity can actually boost your physical and mental health. Some of the benefits of creativity include:

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  • It gives you a sense of control over the outside world.
  • It provides an outlet to create something positive out of a bad experience.
  • It promotes abstract thinking, to come up with new (and sometimes better) solutions.
  • It helps you resolve conflicts.
  • It gives you a place to express emotions, to learn more about yourself, and to effectively work through your thoughts.
  • It provides a greater sense of well-being.
  • It helps you better understand empathy, which can help you build better relationships.

All of these benefits translate to your everyday life. Creativity isn’t just about becoming a better musician; it’s about becoming a better person.

6. It can boost health

Similar to the concept that creativity improves physical and mental health; researchers have also studied the effect of music improvisation on your health. They found that improvising music can have a distinct effect on well-being, separately from other musical behaviors. Engaging in improvisation exercises helps reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn can improve mental health conditions.

Improvising music also has been shown to improve communication skills in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Music is an outlet to communicate and process emotions, often assisting children who have trouble processing emotions on their own. When improvising in a group, students learn how to listen to other students’ music, and communicate something back to them.

7. It reinforces listening

Improvising isn’t just for solo artists; entire groups can improvise together, and even sound quite good when they have an effective leader. Group improvisation sessions reinforce how important it is to watch your conductor, and to pay attention to what the rest of the group is doing. If your musical ensemble can master the act of improvising together, then when you switch back to sheet music, the group will work much better as a whole.

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Group improvisation also helps students communicate with their musical peers better; which can translate to other areas of communication in life. Improvisation exercises also help promote a sense of community within a music group, which often benefits a student’s well-being outside of class.

8. It’s fun and motivating!

Reading the same sheet music, day after day, can become repetitive. This may leave students feeling disengaged in their music lessons. Improvisation is always a new experience, and it oftentimes feels like a game. Because it’s fun, it acts as a good motivator for students who feel like they’re not being challenged in class, or engaging their creativity.

Improvising is scary at first, as you ditch the familiar guide of the notes on your page – but even simple improvisation makes a difference! Start out small, perhaps by improvising quarter notes on a single octave scale; and continue to practice your improvisation skills, challenging yourself (or your music students) more and more each time. Whether you’re practicing on your own or teaching music to eager students, you’ll find that improvising will mold better music skills, and well-rounded, healthier musicians.

Featured photo credit: www.npr.org via npr.org

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Jennifer Paterson

President of California Music Studios

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

Top 9 Foods for Incredible Brian Health And Brain Power

Top 9 Foods for Incredible Brian Health And Brain Power

Your brain is the most intricate and powerful organ in your entire body. It’s essentially a super-computer with brain power like a Ferrari.

If you have a Ferrari, would you put cheap gasoline in it? Of course not. You want to put in high-octane performance fuel to get the most out of your investment.

When it comes to the brain, many people are looking for the top foods that will supercharge the brainpower to help focus better, think more clearly and have better brain health.

In this article, we’ll look at the top 9 brain foods that will help create supercharge your brain with energy and health:

1. Salmon

Salmon has long been held as a healthy brain food, but what makes this fish so valuable for your brain health?

It’s important to understand that your brain is primarily made up of fat. Roughly 60% of your brain is fat. One of the most important fats that the brain uses as a building block for healthy brain cells is omega-3’s.

Omega-3’s are essential for building a healthy brain but one of the most important omega-3’s for your brain is DHA. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) forms nearly two-thirds of the omega-3’s found in your brain.[1]

Omega-3’s and DHA in particular help form the protective coating around our neurons. The better quality this coating is, the more efficient and effective our brain cells can work, allowing our brain power to work at full capacity.

Studies have shown that being deficient in DHA can affect normal brain development in children, which is why so many infant formulas and children’s supplements are beginning to include DHA.

Being deficient in DHA as an adult can cause focus and attention problems, mood swings, irritability, fatigue and poor sleep.

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2. Blueberries

Blueberries top the list as one of the most beneficial fruits to maximize your brain health and performance.

Blueberries have some of the highest content of antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, than any other fruit, which helps protect the brain from stress and promote healthy brain aging.

Blueberries antioxidant content also help reduce inflammation, which allows the brain to maintain healthy energy levels.

Blueberries have begun to receive attention for their connection to brain performance.[2] Studies have demonstrated that eating blueberries on a regular basis can not only improve brain health but also brain performance as well including working memory.[3]

Blueberries not only taste great but are low in calories, high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Manganese.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is a very impressive spice that has well-researched and proven to have tremendous benefits for your brain. Turmeric’s main compound that benefits the brain is called curcumin, which is responsible for turmerics bright yellow appearance.

Curcumin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-cancer properties.[4]

Curcumin increases the production and availability of two important neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, two important neurotransmitters involved with happiness, motivation, pleasure, and reward.

Curcumin has been well documented to have powerful anti-depressive effects. In one study, it was found to be as effective for depression as popular medications such as SSRI’s like Prozac.[5]

Curcumin has also been shown to:

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  • Increase blood flow to the brain.[6]
  • Increase BDNF production, a powerful stimulator of neuroplasticity.[7]
  • Increase DHA availability and synthesis in the brain.[8]
  • Increase antioxidant levels in the brain to prevent brain aging and inflammation.[9]

4. Coffee

Coffee is the wonderful elixir of energy that many people cherish every single morning. The biggest reason people drink coffee is to get a dose of caffeine.

Caffeine is a natural neurological stimulant that not only gives you energy but also prevents adenosine, a neurotransmitter involved with feeling tired, from binding in the brain.

Many people are surprised to find that coffee actually contains a large quantity of antioxidants called polyphenols, which are important for reducing inflammation in the brain and keep your brain energized. The antioxidants in coffee also provide a neuroprotective effect, protecting the brain from stress and damage. [R]

Coffee can also:

  • Improve alertness and concentration.[10]
  • Help with neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.[11]
  • Reduce your risk of depression.[12]
  • Improve your memory.
  • Provide short-term boost in athletic performance.[13]

5. Broccoli

What was your least favorite food as a kid growing up?

Most likely, broccoli was your answer.

Broccoli may not have been your top choice, but it might be the top choice for your brain.

Broccoli contains a compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane has been shown to promote the proliferation and survival of brain cells by reducing inflammation and boosting production of BDNF. It has also been shown to boost neurogenesis, the production of new brain cells.[14]

Broccoli is also loaded with important nutrients Vitamin K and Folate. Vitamin K plays a vital role in protecting brain cells.[15] Folate plays a crucial role in detoxification and reducing inflammation in the brain.

6. Bone broth

Bone broth wasn’t just created to combine with soups, you can actually drink bone broth by itself.

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Drinking bone broth has become one of the biggest trends in the health and wellness industry and for good reason. Bone broth isn’t actually a new thing. Bone broth has been used for centuries as a healing tonic to promote health and longevity.

Much of the nutritional benefits and value of bone broth comes from its substantial vitamin and mineral content. Primarily calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium.

Your gut is called your second brain for a reason. Research continually shows that there is a direct and indirect connection between your gut and your brain. Your gut also houses and stores many important brain compounds involved with optimal brain performance. Therefore the health of your gut is vitally important for your brain health and performance.

Bone broth has become a go-to tool for helping heal the gut and provide the gut with the vital nutrient and resources it needs to heal and perform optimally.

With the vast amounts of nutrients that bone broth contains, it makes the list as a go-to food for your brain health.

Look for high quality, organic bone broth for the best results.

7. Walnuts

Walnuts are one of the top choices of nuts for brain health. Walnuts also look similar to a brain.

Amongst the wide variety of nuts available, walnuts contain the highest amounts of the important omega-3 DHA. DHA, as seen above, is a critical building block for a healthy brain.

Walnuts also contain high amounts of antioxidants, folate, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus, which help to lower inflammation.

Melatonin in walnuts is an important nutrient for regulating your sleep. Having low amounts of melatonin can make it challenging to get good quality sleep and getting poor quality sleep can dramatically impair brain health and performance.

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8. Eggs

For years, eggs were put on the nutritional naughty list; but now, eggs are finally getting the credit they deserve. Eggs can provide a tremendous boost to your brain health and longevity.

Eggs, particularly the yolks, contain a compound called choline. Choline is essential for building the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine plays an important role in mood, memory, and intelligence.

Egg yolks contain some of the highest quantities of choline. This is very important because low levels of choline can lead to low levels of acetylcholine, which in turn can cause increased inflammation, brain fog, difficulty concentrating and fatigue.

9. Dark chocolate

You’re about to love chocolate even more because chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is great for your brain.

Chocolate boosts levels of endorphins, your brains “feel good” chemicals. This is why you feel so good eating chocolate.[16]

Chocolate also increases blood flow to the brain which can help improve memory, attention, focus, and reaction time.[17]

Dark chocolate contains high levels of magnesium, which has been coined “natures valium” for its ability to calm and relax the brain.

Lastly, dark chocolate has one of the highest antioxidant profiles out of any other food, including popular superfoods like acai berries, blueberries, or pomegranates.[18]

Conclusion

Your brain is a high performing organ and it uses quite a lot of energy, roughly 20% of the bodies energy demands.

In order to maintain a healthy brain, you need the right fuel to ensure that your brain has all the nutrients it needs to perform as well as adapt to the stress of life.

If you want to keep your brain performing well for a lifetime, then you want to make sure you are including as many of these brain health foods as possible.

More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: DHA Effects in Brain Development and Function
[2] Canadian Science Publishing: Enhanced task-related brain activation and resting perfusion in healthy older adults after chronic blueberry supplementation
[3] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Cognitive effects following acute wild blueberry supplementation in 7- to 10-year-old children.
[4] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Curcumin: the Indian solid gold.
[5] Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition.: Turmeric, the Golden Spice
[6] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Effect of combined treatment with curcumin and candesartan on ischemic brain damage in mice.
[7] Science Direct: Curcumin reverses the effects of chronic stress on behavior, the HPA axis, BDNF expression and phosphorylation of CREB
[8] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders.
[9] PLOS: A Chemical Analog of Curcumin as an Improved Inhibitor of Amyloid Abeta Oligomerization
[10] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Effects of Caffeine on Cognitive Performance, Mood, and Alertness in Sleep-Deprived Humans
[11] American Academy of Neurology: A Cup of Joe May Help Some Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
[12] American Academy of Neurology: AAN 65th Annual Meeting Abstract
[13] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Effects of caffeine on the metabolic and catecholamine responses to exercise in 5 and 28 degrees C.
[14] US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Hyperammonemia induces glial activation, neuroinflammation and alters neurotransmitter receptors in hippocampus, impairing spatial learning: reversal by sulforaphane
[15] Oxford Academic: Vitamin K and the Nervous System: An Overview of its Actions
[16] Diana L. Walcutt, Ph.D: Chocolate and Mood Disorders
[17] Health Magazine: Chocolate can do good things for your heart, skin and brain
[18] Chemistry Central Journal: Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products

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