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    “Making Music Matters”

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    Hutchinson Middle Schooler Marquise Nelson plays the violin with his school's orchestra during String Wars, the Lubbock Independent School District 25th annual string fling, Tuesday night at the Lubbock Civic Center Auditorium. Tuesday, Feb. 02, 2010 (Photo by Geoffrey McAllister/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)

    Middle Schooler Marquise Nelson plays the violin with his school’s orchestra

     

     

    “Music is good for the brain”.

    We’ve heard this statement so often that it has lost much of its impact. There are high school and college classes on music appreciation which scratch the surface of this topic. The most substantial benefits of music, however, cannot be achieved through mere appreciation. It is only accessed through application, ie; actually making music.

    That dusty old guitar in the corner or that out of tune piano is where the magic lies. TIME magazine said it best “It is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.”

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    Music Makes You Stronger

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    Well…. Your memory at least. Music creates the strongest form of memory.
    Have you ever wondered why when you hear a familiar tune it can bring to mind a certain place or a certain feeling? The little tune your favorite teacher taught you in elementary school or the song that certain boyfriend used to sing in the car all the time. Try humming just the beginning of “Twinkle, Twinkle” and everyone around you will know the tune. Merely say the words “Ice, Ice Baby” and you may set off an impromptu karaoke session. Whether you want to conjure up those memories or not, they seem to be forever engrained in our brains.

    So it’s no coincidence that even in our earliest stages of life we are taught new information through song. We use music to tell stories, for language development, even to teach rules and prayers in a memorable way.
    The power of music memory is perhaps most evident in the cases of elderly patients. Alzheimer’s patients who seem to be completely unresponsive with little to no memory suddenly regain motor functions and can even recall lyrics to songs they once heard in their youth.
    Victims of traumatic brain injuries can relearn valuable information more effectively through song than any other method.
    According to studies the region of the brain most active when listening to music is the pre frontal cortex. Did you know that the pre frontal cortex is also the last region of the brain to atrophy? Perhaps that’s the reason music memory has such longevity.
    So next time you’re struggling to remember some important information maybe you should consider turning it into a song. Phone, gum, keys, check!

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    The Positive Effects of Singing For Those Who Stutter

    What do B.B. King, Mel Tillis and American Idol contestant Lazaro Arbos have in common?

      

    If you said they were singers you would only be partly right.

     

    They also live with a speech impediment: stuttering.

     

    You wouldn’t know it if you only heard them belting out beautiful tunes. Their stuttering seems to miraculously disappear once they begin to sing. This “miracle” has intrigued scientists and speech therapists who want to help people work through their impediment.

     

    Here is what they discovered:

     

    • Talking ignites activity on the left side of the brain while singing sparks the right hemisphere. In short, stuttering is a problem that originates from the left hemisphere.

     

    • Singers tend to know all the lyrics to the song they’re singing and don’t have to search for the right words to say. Word retrieval may be another cause of stuttering, according to The Stuttering Foundation.

     

    • Other activities such as whispering, speaking in unison, and blocking out their own voice also makes the stuttering disappear.

     

    We included a video of Mel Tillis early in his music career to show you the remarkable difference talking and singing has on those who stutter. In this clip, you’ll see Tillis talk to host Porter Wagoner and the audience. He stutters a few words that causes the audience to laugh. It is a brief moment but it’s a bit heartbreaking. Wagoner assures the audience that “He has a little speech defect that doesn’t bother your singing at all or writing at all. You’re fine man.”  Those are some wonderful words of encouragement and, of course, Tillis sings with his deep, beautiful voice and just wows the crowd.

     

    Based on our limited knowledge, there is no cure for stuttering. However, various therapy options are available, including singing, to make the impediment more manageable. If you or your child stutters talk with your doctor about voice lessons. You can foster your love of music and build confidence while overcoming a personal challenge.

     

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    Honoring A Pioneer of Music Psychology

    Chances are if you were on the Internet this week — either on social media or reading the news — you probably heard about a New York Times article by beloved neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks.

     

    If you read his op-ed piece you were probably crushed like us. In an understated way, Sacks wrote that he is one of the “unlucky ones” and has terminal cancer with just a few months to live. He writes that he will make every moment matter and reflects on his contemporaries.

     

    “My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”

     

    Yet, what you may not know is that Sacks is one of the leading scientists who espoused the benefits of music on the brain. Before there was “Alive Inside,” Sacks was writing on how music enlivened Alzheimer’s patients. Before there was this video, Sacks was mapping areas of the brain that lit up when people played music. As Music.Mic eloquently explains: “For anyone who has ever wondered how the climax of Beethoven symphonies can move us to tears, or why the pounding rhythms of a festival can cause us to lose all inhibitions, his 2007 book Musicophilia is a revelation”

     

    The music website lists its 11 favorite music quotes from Sacks but this is our favorite.

    Oliver Sacks music quote.

    Oliver Sacks music quote.

     

    We want to use this modest space to thank a man who has done so much to shine the light on music.

     

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    Music and the Brain

    If you follow The Music Junction’s Facebook page, you may have known about a KPCC 89.3 event on music and the brain that had us excited. The event featured Nina Kraus of Northwestern University, whose work we have reported on here as well as Suzanne Gindin, founder of the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra and Kristen Madsen, Senior Vice President, The GRAMMY Foundation and MusiCares.

     

    The event quickly filled to capacity but we were fortunate to see a video of the presentation, which we included above. Here are some of the important points that we wrote down:

    • Music and language overlap in many ways. “Music is a good model of auditory learning … It certainly makes sense that the learning of music might transfer to the learning, and just to be a better communicator through language,” Kraus said.

     

    • Kraus studied children in a music program who received five hours of instruction a week. There were no notable improvements after one year but after two years Kraus’ said her team was “able to measure very fundamental, biological changes to auditory processing.”

     

    • Research as not figured out the magic number (also known as the dosage effect) for the number of hours a student music complete in order to reap the benefits.

     

    • Rhythm is important for language as well as music.

     

    • Currently, music curriculum is based on music. Gindin wondered what if teachers based music curriculum on ways to make students better readers and learners such as a  stronger focus on steady beat and pitch differentiation? “Can you image the connections,” Gindin asked.

     

    • Playing in an orchestras or ensembles is one of the few activities where several people are “doing the same thing at once and you all have to agree,” Gindin said. “I think the process of doing that as group creates a sense of confidence.”

     

    • Music has a lasting impact on the brain. Kraus’ team found that older adults who stopped playing music years ago had faster neural timing in response to speech compared to those of the same age group who had not taken music lessons.

     

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    Music Lessons Help with Focus and Emotional Control

    There may be a lot of unknowns in the world of science but one thing that is clear: playing music does wonder for your brain.

     

    The latest research published in the November edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry shows that music lessons can help kids focus, control their emotions and diminish anxiety.

     

    Researchers from the University of Vermont looked at MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) brain scans of 232 children who range in ages from 6 to 18 and looked at ways music instruction affected the thickness of the cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain. The theory is that thicker cortices preserve the effectiveness of the brain’s functions while thinner cortices reduce the efficacy. The research team found that those who participated in music lessons had thick cortices in the regions of the brain related to motor control or coordination, executive function — which includes attention, memory, organization and planning — and processing of emotions.

     

    The research team believes in the Vermont Family Based Approach, a school of thought that young people’s environment – parents, teachers, friends, pets, extracurricular activities – contributes to their psychological health. The team believes that music instruction is a critical component to health, especially for children living with psychological disorders.

     

    In their study, the authors write: “Such statistics, when taken in the context of our present neuroimaging results, underscore the vital importance of finding new and innovative ways to make music training more widely available to youths, beginning in childhood.”

     

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    2014: A Year That Showed The Many Benefits of Music Instruction

    This year has proven to be an eventful one in discovering the benefits of playing music. Music.Mic listed the top 12 stories of 2014 and we’re proud that we’ve covered so many of these issues already in this blog included how music lessons can improve executive function, help with literacy and close the achievement gap.

     

    Here are some of our favorite stories from Music.Mic, ranging from the insightful to the humorous. What is your favorite story of 2014?

     

    •  Sounds Quality Affects Enjoyment. Rack up a point for vinyl lovers. Researchers found that the sound quality of music  impacts our emotional response to it. Volunteers were divided into two groups — one listened to a standard stereo 96-kbps sound and the other heard a song in 256-kbps audio format. The people who listened to the higher kpbs audio were 66 percent more likely to register pleasurable responses to what they heard. Vinyl records, on the other hand, plays at 1,000 kbps so start pulling out your old vinyls!

     

    •  Music Can Help Treat ADHD. Scientists from the University of Graz in Austria report that children who play music have significantly thicker grey matter in brain areas linked to attention and concentration. These areas in the brain are the same regions that are lacking in the brain scan of children living with ADHD.  Researchers hope that taking music lessons can increase grey matter for those living with this disorder.

     

    • Music Can Affect Your Alcohol Consumption.  Researchers from Dartmouth College and the University of Pittsburgh found that teens who like “songs with explicit alcohol references are two to three times more likely to engage in binge drinking than teenagers who aren’t familiar with booze-addled pop.” Changing a teen’s behavior may be difficult given the prevalence of alcohol references in today’s pop music. In fact, teens listen to an verage of 2.5 hours of music a day and, in that time frame, are exposed to eight references of alcohol brands. The study’s author was right:  “Our music is giving us drinking problems.”

     

    What’s in store of 2015 for music and science? We cannot wait to find out more benefts of music lessons.

     

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    Playing Music Reaps Many Benefits For The Brain

    Attending a baseball game doesn’t make you fit and neither does watching a legal thriller make you lawyer. The same thinking applies to music. Do not expect your brain to benefit from music simply by listening to Mozart.

     

    In order to reap the benefits of music — from improved memory to enhanced communication skills to better executive function — one has to play an instrument and be engaged, according to a recent Northwestern University study led by researcher Nina Kraus.

     

    “Because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain,” Kraus told Time magazine.

     

    So, the bottom line is that listening to classical music and going to the Hollywood Bowl are great cultural experiences but they are not enough. Yet, the answer is not forcing an unwilling child to take lessons because there’s a good chance she will not pay attention and not practice.

     

    Ideally, children need express their opinions about music lessons. Even if she is not initially keen on the idea, let her pick the instrument and spend time together finding the right instructor, someone who is knowledgeable and can get her excited about making music.

     

    Adds Krause: “Making music should be something that children enjoy and will want to keep doing for many years!”

     

    We agree!

     

    If you would like to learn more about Kraus’ research or how the brain benefits from playing music, consider attending KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum that will discuss this subject in depth.

     

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    Older People’s Brains Benefit From Music Lessons

    It is an unfortunate reality that many people stop playing musical instruments as they grow older. Thankfully, we stumbled upon a wonderful story and some scientific research that shows it is never too late to stop playing.

    Writer Carolyn Scott Kortge for The Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon wrote about a tuba ensemble filled with retirees, like Bill Jensen. Jensen and others shared with Kortge personal stories on how they joined the group.

    “Like many of us who dutifully took music lessons in our youth, Jensen, 68, shifted his focus to family and work as he moved into adulthood,” Kortge wrote. “The pastimes of earlier days were replaced by income-producing efforts. But he missed the sense of connection he’d once felt — one participant in a group of many, creating harmony together … In retirement, they are relearning techniques and rediscovering rewards in the sound of music.”

    It is a beautifully written story about taking on new challenges and worth a read.

    Members of the tuba ensemble are also receiving other benefits from playing. A study of 60- to 80-years-olds who received piano instruction for at least six months showed marked gains in memory, verbal fluency and processing information compared to those who did not take music lessons.

    Jennifer Bugo, an assistant professor of music education who conducted the study said this development should be encouraging news.

    “People often shy away from learning to play a musical instrument at a later age, but it’s definitely possible to learn and play well into late adulthood,” Bugos told National Geographic.

    These stories should be the final encouragement to start music lessons for older people. It is never too late to learn and your brain will thank you for it!

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    How We Learn

    A new book from a New York Times reporter questions the notion of “good” study habits and may have you rethink how you practice for your voice and piano lessons.

     In “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth about When, Where, and Why It Happens,” Benedict Carey believes we have turned learning into a negative and boring experience. Often, we tell children to study for long hours, alone and in quiet setting, which should come as no surprise why so many hate studying.

    Instead, Carey wants us to reconsider the learning process in a way that respects the brain’s uniqueness and is back by scientific research.

    “The brain is not like a muscle, at least not in any straightforward sense. It is something else altogether, sensitive to mood, to timing, to circadian rhythms, as well as to location, environment. It registers far more than we’re conscious of and often adds previously unnoticed details when revisiting a memory or learned fact …If the brain is a learning machine, then it’s an eccentric one. And it performs best when its quirks are exploited.”

    Here are some tips we thought most appropriate for those taking music lessons:

    1. Taking A Break Is Good: If you’ve hit a wall in the learning process, it is fine to take that 15-minute walk or check out your friends’ updates on social media. Taking a break allows your brain to process information, known as an “incubation” period. During the processing, the brain has time to reflect and provide new insight.

     

    2. Multi-tasking is Good: Focusing on one skill is less beneficial than studying a bunch of related skills at the same time. In terms of music, how many times have you hit a wall with a difficult passage and thought the best solution was to repeat the notes again and again (and again!) until you mastered it?

     

    3. Mistakes Are Good: Making mistakes does not mean that you are not learning correctly. Instead, learning from your errors enhances the learning process.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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