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The Top 17 Ways Learning a Musical Instrument Gives You The Edge

The Top 17 Ways Learning a Musical Instrument Gives You The Edge

Music is a powerful weapon and in the right hands it can be a great force for good. It has the power to bring people to their feet, bring them together, separate them, enrage them, or fill them with fervor for a just cause. It can be calming, bring one to tears, and even make one fall in love. It is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. I have been a musician from the day I was born and have been performing since I was a young child. Currently I teach music and play several different instruments. Every day I get to see the changes in the people I teach and it is like watching a young peacock open his tail feathers for the first time. We have all heard various opinions and studies about the correlation of music study and brain function. There is no denying that the study of music increases the general ability to learn in children and there are many theories as to why this is so. Quite aside from these ideas that have been kicking around for some time, there are many other benefits of playing a musical instrument. Some may surprise you!

1. Music is a direct expression from soul to soul.

There are no words that can say what music can. It is no secret that when we hear someone play or sing, we feel as though we really know that person. And we do, much more intimately than if we had a conversation with them. People inherently love and respect musicians who can move them and make them feel. Many people have become numbed by the ups and down in life. Sometimes it takes the perfect piece of music, communicated by a wonderful musician, to allow someone who has been emotionally injured to heal.

2. Music study exposes one to a rich history and puts it in context.

Music is a mirror and an expression of what was happening when the music was created. Many people do not know that the great Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1902), for example, despite being a brilliant composer, had to tip toe around the political censors while writing his famous operas. Ludwig van Beethoven, (1770–1827), wrote his masterpieces under extreme personal hardship, and once you have read and understand the context of his music, it takes on a new richness and creates a new depth of admiration for the composer himself. For an in-depth look at and to listen to the greatest orchestral works and the history surrounding the creation of these works, listen to this lecture series given by Dr. Robert Greenberg through The Great Courses. I have listened to these lectures over and over again. I look forward to each one with happy anticipation. Dr. Greenberg is brilliant!

3. Studying music sharpens concentration and teaches perseverance.

As one develops as a musician, one realizes the importance of keeping one’s mind on the task at hand. As you are playing through a piece, whether it be a classical Allegro piece (happy and fast), or a swampy blues ballad, you cannot take your mind off what you are doing for one second or you will end up in a musical ditch. I have told my students over and over that they cannot be thinking about what they will make for lunch while playing music. It is a recipe for disaster. Additionally, you cannot play a passage quickly and well unless you have slowed it way down and gotten each little part perfect. This takes time, patience and drill and it is the secret that differentiates a brilliant musician from a poseur. This little tip can be applied in many areas of life. The true professional in any field takes care to make every little part of what they are working on perfect.

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4. Learning music makes you an expert in reading non-verbal communication.

As you play music with another person or a group, you realize that there is a method of communication that transcends words. It is actually more like ESP than anything else. As a rock bassist in my youth, I was fortunate enough to play with a magnificent drummer. Every time I was going to take a detour rhythmically, he was right there with me. It was as though we were in two separate race cars and everywhere I went, even at super high speeds, he was there grinning at me. The best musicians I have ever played with understood that communication is more than talk or words. It is soul to soul contact and it works!

5. Learning music increases responsibility.

As a songwriter, I have seen how music affects people. It is almost unlimited in its ability to rouse to action. That said, with power comes great responsibility. The one thing I do know about music—or any art, really—is that whatever message travels on an aesthetic or artful line must be truth as far as you can see because music goes into people. It communicates faster and more effectively than any words ever can. As such, it can be used for good or evil. Thus musicians and everyone else working in the area of the arts have a great responsibility to ensure that their message is one of benevolence.

6. Studying music teaches one how to listen.

A good musician must be very in tune to how things sound. He or she must know how to listen. A musician playing with others will soon be playing alone if he or she doesn’t know how to listen. A musical group or band situation demands give and take musically. There are unspoken cues and musical cues as well as the overall sound of the group that one must be aware of. If someone is forever playing over the vocalist or taking a solo when they should not be, they are likely to find a microphone embedded in the back of their head! Music is communication and is subject to the same laws of communication as everything else, even though the cues may be subtle. These skills must be learned by a musician and are generally enforced by the other group members.

7. Studying music increases coordination.

A person learning how to sing or play an instrument automatically becomes more aware of their body. The body can also be considered an instrument as it works very closely with the actual instrument (or in the case of a singer, it is the instrument) to create the sounds. There are instruments like the violin, for example, that are extremely precise. One must place one’s fingers exactly or it sounds wrong. This takes drill and isolation of the different parts of the body, as well as learning to allow the body parts to work in harmony with each other. When things go wrong, the musician must be able to spot where the change occurred and get back on track. This is a valuable skill in life. Being able to spot where errors occurred and correct them is vital in any life situation.

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8. Studying music relieves stress.

There is nothing like a great practice session or performance to put you in a great mood. Music is pure communication. Pure communication makes everything better. Also the act of focusing your attention, such as is required when mastering a difficult passage or learning a song to play with your band, does not allow for the intrusion of stressful thoughts. Music can rejuvenate you even after the worst day.

9. Learning music fosters creativity.

Once one understands the basics of music, it is not difficult to start taking the components and reconfiguring them to come up with entirely new songs or pieces. Even my youngest students have brought in songs that they have written and want to try out.

10. Learning music helps you remember.

Not only does learning to memorize pieces of music exercise your brain and allow you to remember more easily, for whatever reason you can remember things better when they are set to music. For example, you may not be able to memorize algebraic equations, but if you make them into a song, you automatically remember them more easily.

11. Learning music helps you become better at managing your time.

Practice is a  big part of learning music and practice takes time. Time must be factored in to your already busy day. Your practice time must then become efficient. Musicians who become great know that efficiency is the key component of music. Your movements must be extremely efficient in order to play fast passages. Your valuable practice time must be efficient so that you don’t waste it.

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12. Learning music teaches you to persevere until you get it right.

You have seen brilliant players on just about any instrument and in any genre. Brilliant playing doesn’t just occur. There is a lot of repetitive drill that goes on to create something that seems effortless. Learning to keep at something until it is perfect is a vital skill in life. Learning to take the time to go beyond ‘good enough’ and go for perfect is the first step toward proficiency in any subject.

13. Learning music and performing forces you to develop composure in front of people.

So many people I know have a mortal fear of speaking in front of an audience. Musicians have to develop the skill not only to speak before an audience, but to perform demanding pieces under pressure as well. Most of my students have had performances where they were convinced that they were terrible on stage. I remind them that performing is itself a skill and unfortunately you cannot develop this skill alone in your room or studio. You have no choice but to develop it right there in front of everybody. Every musician I know has had bad nights. They learn from them and become stronger as a result. The really great ones have performed so many times that they know how to deal with the nerves (yes, we still get nervous), the uncertainties of a new venue and the unexpected things that always pop up in any performance.

14. Learning music is just really interesting!

OK, I am a self professed Music Theory Nerd. I love to know what all the symbols are and how they all relate and coordinate with each other. In fact, I wrote a book on it! I love to understand all of the rules of music and to listen to the works of great composers. Music is richly imbued with ancient stories and symbols that most people never know about. There is no history richer than the history of music.

15. Learning music gives you access to a creative social network.

While music can be played by one person, it is when you start playing in groups that the fun really begins. Most musicians love to play with other people as the interaction aides creativity in oneself. Music builds life-long relationships.

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16. If you know music, you always have a marketable skill that you can take with you anywhere.

Music is always needed and wanted by people of all cultures. You can go anywhere and be assured that you have a skill that can put food on the table no matter where you are. From the various playing opportunities to teaching, to even busking on the street (it’s really fun, you should try it!), you are never without a way to make money.

17. Learning music lets you call yourself a musician and that is the coolest thing ever!

Who here has not, at least once, fallen in love with a musician after seeing him or her perform? The Beatles had more female fans than any group in history. Face it, being a musician is cool! So, now that we have decided that you are going to take up a musical instrument, which will it be? Get your instrument and meet me in the studio. We have work to do!

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How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality.

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser. He is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

He is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would he abuse you? And since “he” is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

He is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it.

Occasionally, he is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

He is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

He can be set off by words or feelings. He can even be set off by sounds and smells.

He has no real motivation; he has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

His motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • He riles up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • He is often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • He is a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • He is the destroyer of self-esteem. He convinces you that you’re not worthy. He’s a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get him out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace him with your new best friend who supports, encourages, and enhances your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

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Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

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One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(He’s made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

Becoming the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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