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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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        Published on July 7, 2020

        Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

        Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

        Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

        Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

        The Skinny on Mental Workouts

        Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

        Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

        1. Improved Memory

        After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

        2. Reduced Stress Levels

        Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

        3. Improved Work Performance

        Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

        4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

        As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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        Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

        Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

        The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

        1. Brainstorming

        One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

        If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

        2. Dancing

        Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

        Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

        3. Learning a New Language

        Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

        With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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        4. Developing a Hobby

        Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

        If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

        For example:

        • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
        • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
        • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
        • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

        Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

        5. Board Games

        Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

        Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

        6. Card Games

        Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

        A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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        7. Puzzles

        Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

        Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

        8. Playing Music

        Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

        Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

        What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

        9. Meditating

        Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

        Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

        • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
        • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
        • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
        • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
        • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
        • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

        10. Deep Conversation

        There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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        Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

        11. Cooking

        When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

        If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

        12. Mentorship

        Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

        Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

        Final Thoughts

        Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

        To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

        More Tips for Training Your Brain

        Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

        Reference

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