Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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:

Advertising

  • 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.

Advertising

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

More by this author

Jennifer Paterson

President of California Music Studios

music How to Relieve Stress Through Music 8 Surprising Benefits of Music Improvisation music lessons 5 Things to Consider Before Your Child Abandons Music Lessons global music Top 11 Most Unique Musical Instruments From Around the Globe musician A Life of Music: 8 Careers for the Musician

Trending in Lifestyle

1 The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight 2 Why Am I Exhausted? The Real Causes and How to Fix It Forever 3 60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life in the Next 100 Days 4 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself 5 How To Be Successful In Life? 13 Tips From The Most Successful People

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on October 16, 2018

The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

It’s well past midnight and you’ve got to get up in less than six hours. You toss and turn all night. Before you know it, another hour passes by and you start panicking.

If I don’t get to sleep in the next 30 minutes, I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow!”

One thing is for sure, you’re not alone. Over 70M+ Americans have stated that they don’t get the proper sleep they need at night.[1] So what could possibly be causing this insomnia epidemic?

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey of building my language learning company, I have experimented and researched dozens of best sleep practices. Some have flopped but a few have dramatically improved the quality of my life and work.

In this article, I’ll look into the reason why you’re sleep deprived and how to sleep through the night tonight.

Why you can’t sleep through the night

The first step to improving anything is getting to the bottom of the root problem. Different studies have shown the reasons why most people cannot sleep well at night.[2] Here are the main ones that the average person faces:

Advertising

Stress

If you’ve ever stayed up at night worrying about something, know that it’s a major sleep inhibitor. When you’re feeling stress, your mind and body becomes more activated, making it incredibly difficult to fall asleep. Even when you do manage to sleep, it won’t be deep enough to help you feel rested the next day.

Exposure to blue light before sleep time

We’re exposed to harmful blue light on a daily basis through the use of our digital screens. If you’ve never heard of blue light, it’s part of the visible light spectrum that suppresses melatonin, our sleep hormones. Other harmful effects include digital eye strains and macular cellular damage.

While daytime exposure to blue light is not very harmful, night time exposure tricks our brain into thinking it’s daytime. By keeping your brain alert and suppressing melatonin, your mind is unable to shut down and relax before bedtime.

Eating close to bedtime

Eating too late can actually be an issue for many people, especially those who are older than 40. The reason is, eating before laying down increases the chances of Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which stomach acid backflows into the esophagus.

Another reason not to eat too late is sleep quality. Even if you manage to sleep right after eating, it’s likely that you’ll wake up tired. Instead of letting your body rest during sleep, it has to digest the food that was entered before bedtime.

Rule of thumb: eat 3-4 hours before bedtime.

Advertising

Medical conditions

In some cases, it could be medical conditions that cause your sleep problems. If you can’t relate yourself to the above reasons or any of these common sleep problem causes, you should visit the doctor.

The vicious sleep cycle

The biggest danger to repeating the bad habits mentioned above is the negative cycle that it can take you through. A bad night’s sleep can affect not only your energy but your willpower and decision making skills.

Here’s an example of a bad sleep pattern:

You get a bad night’s sleep
–> You feel tired and stressful throughout the day.
–> You compensate it with unhealthy habits (for example junk food, skipping exercises, watching Netflix etc.)
–> You can’t sleep well (again) the next night.

    You can imagine what could happen if this cycle repeats over a longer period of time.

    Advertising

    How to sleep better (throughout the night)

    To help you break the vicious cycle and stop waking up in the middle of the night, I’ll explain to you a list of actionable steps to solve your trouble staying asleep.

    1. Take control over the last 90 minutes of your night

    What you do (or don’t do) before bedtime have significant impact on the quality of your sleep. Many times, it can be the difference between staying up until 4am and sleeping like a baby.

    Here are a few suggestions:

    • Go from light to dark – Darkness stimulates production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Turn off unused light around the house, and think about investing into warm light that you can use in the bedroom before bedtime.
    • Avoid screens (or wear blue light blocking glasses) – Keep the bedroom a technology-free zone as the light from electronic devices can disturb your sleep. If you need to work, wear blue light blocking glasses (also known as computer glasses) throughout or before you sleep to prevent sleep disruption.
    • Find an activity that helps you to wind down  This could be anything that calms you down, and reduces thinking (especially unnecessary stress). Fir example, listening to soothing/good feel music, taking a hot bath, reading or meditating.
    • Keep any electronics you have on the other side of the room or outside the room – One of the most harmful things that can disrupt your sleep is the notifications you get from your smartphones. The simplest way to avoid this is to keep it away from you.
    • Create a bedtime routine – A night routine is a couple of things you do prior to going to bed. By doing these things every night, you’ll have a more restful and high-quality sleep. Learn how to pick up a night routine here: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide to Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

    2. Eat the right nutrients (and avoid the wrong ones)

    What you eat (not just when we eat) plays a critical role in your sleep quality. If you’re ever in doubt of what to eat to improve your sleep, take the following into consideration:

    • Kiwi – This green fruit may be the ultimate pre-bed snack. When volunteers ate two kiwis an hour before hitting the hay, they slept almost a full extra hour. Kiwis are full of vitamins C and E, serotonin and folate—all of which may help you snooze.
    • Soy foods – Foods made with soy such as tofu, miso and edamame, are rich in isoflavones. These compounds increase the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that influences the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
    • Fiber-rich foods – Eating more fiber could be key for better sleep. Eating fiber was associated with more restorative slow-wave sleep—the more you eat, the better you sleep—per a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Fiber prevents blood sugar surges that may lower melatonin. Get a fiber boost from beans, artichokes, bran cereal and quinoa.
    • Salmon – Most fish, especially salmon, halibut and tuna boost vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin— a sleep-inducing hormone triggered by darkness.

    3. Adjust your sleep temperature

    Once you’ve gone through the first 2 recommendations, the last step to experiment with is temperature. According to Sleep.org, the ideal temperature for sleep is 60-67 Farenheit. This may be cooler than what most people are used to, but keep in mind that our body temperature changes once we fall asleep.

    Rule of thumb: sleeping in cooler temperature is better for sleep quality than warmer temperature.

    Advertising

    Find out how to maintain the optimal temperature to sleep better here: How to Sleep Faster with the Best Temperature

    Sleep better form now on

    Congrats on making it to the end of this guide on sleep. If you’re serious about taking the necessary steps in improving your sleep, remember to take it one step at a time.

    I recommend trying just one of the steps mentioned such as taking a hot bath, blocking out blue light at night, or sleeping in cooler temperature. From there, see how it impacts your sleep quality and you can keep doing what works, and throw away what doesn’t.

    As long as you follow these steps cautiously and diligently, I know you’ll see improved results in your sleep!

    Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

    Reference

    Read Next