Make Music, Boost Brain

Power of musicI’ve played guitar – classical, acoustic, electric – for over three decades, ever since I pilfered my sister’s nylon string at the age of 12, although even before that, I’d had a couple of those mini toy guitars with actual strings at various points in my childhood. Even though I never took a single guitar lesson, I eventually learned to follow music and guitar tablature, but was only really any good at keeping up with a score if I’d already heard someone else play the music, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing…after all.

Meanwhile, I took up singing in a choral group (called bigMouth) and have felt compelled to become ever so slightly more adept at reading music in a slightly more disciplined environment than jamming on guitars with friends. Big Mouth formed in the autumn of 2007 and we meet weekly for singing practice and have now done a few small “local” gigs. We even put together a last-minute audition video tape for the BBC’s Last Choir Standing, but didn’t make it through to the heats, (un)fortunately.

Anyway, that’s probably enough detail. The point I wanted to make is that until I joined Big Mouth and began making music regularly with a group, I’d always felt like I was quite useless at remembering people’s names. Like many people I’d always had to make a real conscious effort to keep new names in mind. However, in the last few months, with no deliberate action on my part, I’ve noticed that I seem to remember stuff like fleeting introductions, the names of people mentioned in conversations, or press releases and other such transient data much better than before.

I’m curious as to whether it’s the ever-so-slightly more formal discipline of group music practice that’s done something to the wiring in my brain or whether it’s simply to do with expanding one’s social group in a sudden burst like this. Ive heard of people claiming increased brain power after taking music lessons, here you can find piano teaching resources. It’s probably a combination of both and my suspicions about the power of music for boosting the brain are bolstered somewhat by a recent TED talk from Tod Machover and Dan Ellsey on the power of music

I also wonder whether there’s some connection with the Earworms concept for language learning, which I reviewed back in 2006.

6 thoughts on “Make Music, Boost Brain”

  1. Yeah, I think it is the social side of it, that helps. I’m reading Coehlo’s Witch of Portobello at the moment and he talks of the primordial urge to emulate natural rhythms with the earliest forms of music and how this bonded early humans.


  2. I’ve read something similar, but (rather ironically) I can’t remember where!

    But what little I do remember, it is the music / social thing. And that it hints at why early man adopted signing rituals…

  3. I’ve always been good with names and faces, but also good at phone numbers and birthdays, but I’m really not very good at following tab – I find it much easier to do things by ear most of the time.

    I have always been musical, though, and I agree that being able to keep a tune in your head can’t be that dissimilar from keeping a name or a face.

    I think I’m actually the other way round from Eva – I remember things far more easily if I hear something than if I see it written down. Much to my ire at exam revision time – why did I let myself sleep in lectures!? ;)


  4. Interesting, maybe it’s nothing to do with the singing. I took up karate with my son around the same time, perhaps it’s that that’s done the rewiring…


  5. I’ve been actively involved in making music in group settings since I was 11, and I have the hardest time remembering names. (I need to see them written down, otherwise I can’t remember. My auditory memory works for melodies, but not for words)
    Now I dread to think how I’d do if I *didn’t* do music.

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