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Science Says Piano Players’ Brains Are Very Different From Everybody Else’s

Science Says Piano Players’ Brains Are Very Different From Everybody Else’s

The piano is a beautiful instrument. Its players often come across as mysterious; these people who have spent hundreds of hours practicing scales and repeating phrases over and over again to reach sheer aural perfection. To an audience member it can have a similar effect to watching a magic trick or a ballet: it is so skilled and beautiful it almost seems impossible, a feat of the Gods.

But what is going on underneath all of this hard work and magic? It certainly isn’t luck that such an effect can be made.

The little bolts of electricity running through their neurons as they play are not connected the same way as concert goers’. Piano players brains even work differently than the way musicians’ are wired [1]. And this is all because of the instrument they are playing. The piano makes them and their brains unique.

So, read on, and don’t say I didn’t warn you (especially if you have a big-headed pianist in the family!)…that pianists’ brains are different than everyone else’s. Here’s how:

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    Photo credit: Source

    Piano players are more balanced

    This stands to reason. Pianists are born (like all of us) with one side of the brain being favored more than the other. This is not unusual; everyone has a natural preference for which hand we prefer holding our pen in or eating our cereal with (from a young age). The difference here is that pianists begin practicing using both parts of the brain when mastering the use of each hand whilst playing.

    If one hand were to be weaker than the other, playing the piano would not work. Without skill in both it can end up sounding clunky and unbalanced, at best. This necessity to practice and to master both hands means that the brain effectively evens itself out [2]. With practice, despite each player having a naturally stronger hand when they begin, by the time they have become an expert, the weaker hand is strengthened to the same degree as the stronger one.

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    Piano players are more logical multitaskers

    A piano player also more easily creates a link between their frontal lobes. But what does this mean?

    Basically, this handy part of the brain contains control of emotional responses, social behaviors and even impulses, so it’s handy if you have easier access to it than most.

    This also means that pianists are likely to have stronger problem solving and multi-tasking skills and be able to tap into their creativity with greater ease, too.

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      Piano players are more free to express their authentic selves

      One study by Dr. Ana Pinho[3] found that when playing, the well practiced players would turn off the part of the brain that offers stereotypical brain responses. This allows them to play the true expression of who they are and what they want to ‘say’ with their music, rather than some copycat phrasing. (This could be a very useful skill if transferred to life and everyday situations, where the advice of ‘just be yourself’ might work with these dexterously fingered individuals.)

      Piano players are able to use their brain’s energy more effectively

      Less energy is used in the motor skills section of the brain. It seems once you have mastered your craft, your brain simply needs less blood and oxygen sent to this section, thus freeing up energy for other parts of playing, like phrasing and emotional connection to the song.

      Piano players are well practised at conversing (though not in a language we are used to using everyday)

      In the study by Dr. Charles Limb[4], when pianists improvise, it was found that the parts of the brain containing the language center lit up unexpectedly. Despite being a motor skill, when riffing in a call and response style, players are actually talking to each other!

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      So, that’s it! Basically, pianists are awesome! And I would encourage anyone to try out just five minutes a day of playing if you ever have a piano or keyboard near you. Who knows, you might become the next Rachmaninov, or even Chopin. Or you might simply remember where you put your car keys.

        Photo credit: Source

        Featured photo credit: Focus Features Media, The Pianist via focusfeaturesmedia.com

        Reference

        [1] Science Shows How Piano Players’ Brains Are Actually Different From Everybody Else’s, Mic.com
        [2] What studying musicians tell us about motor control of the hand, Music and Health
        [3] Scientists shed light on creativity by studying pianists’ brain activity, theguardian.com
        [4] Brain On Jazz: Novel Study Puts Pianists In MRI Scanners To Show Link Between Music, Language, huffingtonpost.ca

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        Daniel Owen van Dommelen

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        Last Updated on January 21, 2020

        5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

        5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

        Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

        All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

        The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

        “Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

        The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

        “The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

        The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

        “The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

        So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

          Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

          1. Build a Memory Palace

            What is it?

            The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

            How to use it?

            Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

            “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

            Example

            An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

            • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
            • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
            • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
            • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
            • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

            You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

            2. Mnemonic

              What is it?

              A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

              How to use it?

              Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

              Example

              I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

              I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

              Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

              Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

              Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

              Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

              C

              J

              H

              D

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              P

              Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

              Cubs

              Just

              Hate

              Doing

              Push-ups

              Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

              3. Mnemonic Peg System

                What is it?

                According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

                How to use it?

                The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

                Example

                Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

                0 = hero

                1 = gun

                2 = shoe

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                3 = tree

                4 = door

                5 = hive

                6 = sticks

                7 = heaven

                8 = gate

                9 = line

                Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

                4. Chunking

                  What is it?

                  Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

                  How to use it?

                  In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

                  Example

                  Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

                  Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

                  081127882

                  Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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                  081 – 127 – 882

                  Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

                  “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

                  5. Transfer of Learning

                    What is it?

                    Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

                    “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

                    How to use it?

                    There are two specific ways to use it:

                    1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
                    2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

                    Example

                    I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

                    Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

                    The Bottom Line

                    The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

                    We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

                    Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

                    “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

                    More About Enhancing Memories

                    Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

                    Reference

                    [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
                    [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
                    [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
                    [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
                    [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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