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Last Updated on January 17, 2018

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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      Photo credit: Source

      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

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        Daniel Owen van Dommelen

        Coder, Director, Writer, Human

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        Last Updated on October 17, 2018

        7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

        7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

        How is your memory? Is your cognitive function as strong as you’d like it to be?

        If not, then you’re definitely going to be interested in the memory improvement tips I’ll be sharing with you in this article.

        Despite what you might think – or have been told – improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it. (Don’t worry, as you won’t need to make any significant lifestyle changes.)

        So how to improve memory? Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve your memory significantly.

        1. Meditate

        We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts and figures into our conscious minds.

        Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

        Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. And research suggests that the more information and distractions, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory.[1]

        Fortunately, meditation can help you out.

        Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

        If you need help in shifting into a meditative state, I recommend trying an app like Headspace – which can assist you to achieve this in a convenient and structured way.

        And don’t forget, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

        2. Get plenty of sleep

        If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then I’m guessing you’re not remembering well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

        If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities – including your memory.

        How much sleep should you be getting?

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        Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation, you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things.

        Now, I’ll be honest with you, maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!). But if you care about improving your short-term and long-term ability to remember things, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

        Are there ways to hack the sleep cycle?

        Yes, there are.

        Try these three things:

        • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
        • Don’t eat too late
        • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

        Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

        However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory…

        3. Challenge your brain

        When was the last time you challenged your brain?

        I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or undersleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and memory games.

        To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

        Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself, has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-thinking ability and memory.

        There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

        • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
        • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
        • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

        If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live – while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

        Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it, try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

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        4. Take more breaks

        When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctively remember working all the hours under the sun – and many under the moon too!

        At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat and tears.

        However, I was wrong.

        Taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

        Let me explain.

        Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it – in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

        Namely, extended study sessions are rarely a good thing, as your ability to retain information naturally declines after a certain period of time.

        It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

        It’s the same with your brain. If you overload it with information, you’ll suffer from mental fatigue.

        What’s the answer?

        Make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

        If you don’t want to be as regimented as that, then take breaks as soon as you find yourself losing the ability to focus on the new material. Your brain will thank you – and your learning aptitude will move up a level.

        5. Learn a new skill

        I love this quote, as it’s 100% true – but frequently overlooked:

        “Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

        From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

        Let me give you an example of this:

        Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day – many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

        Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

        The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you – rather than letting you work in your own way.

        Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like, and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction in to learning a new skill (computer coding). It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career – and the ongoing learning made the call centre job much more bearable.

        Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking our new information. And when learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly, becomes a habit too.

        6. Start working out

        If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

        Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory.

        Regular exercise increases blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. And a well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

        “But I just don’t have the time?,” I hear you say.

        Not a problem.

        A research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise, offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines.[2] So, if you’re short on time – now you know what to do.

        Interested in getting started?

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        Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

        • Join a gym
        • Join a sports team
        • Buy a bike
        • Take up hiking
        • Dance to your favorite music

        7. Eat healthier foods

        I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

        This applies to your brain too.

        The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health too.

        Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery and dark chocolate. But anything high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory.

        Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain – leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

        Want to be mentally healthy? Then eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

        • Turmeric – helps new brain cells grown
        • Broccoli – protects the brain against damage
        • Nuts – improves memory
        • Green tea – enhances brain performance, memory and focus[3]
        • Fish oilfish oil supplements can increase your brain power

        Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

        Final thoughts

        I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be of help to you.

        You don’t need to implement them all. I suggest just trying the ones that appeal to you.

        But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested. I’m confident you won’t regret it.

        Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

        Reference

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