Does musical experience change or strengthen parts of the brain? The good news for music education is that neuroscientific studies confirm many of the benefits researchers have determined from observation. It also has presented us with new and deeper understandings in this area of study.
The musician’s brain is different from that of the non-musician. Although it does not start out that way substantial changes occur through music training and practice. In particular, music performance activates the motor-control areas of the brain to a high degree.
- The motor cortex, which determines hand movement, is larger for musicians who engage in prolonged instrumental practice.
- The cerebellum, which is primarily concerned with motor coordination, is relatively larger in musicians than in non-musicians.
- When one performs music, virtually the entire cerebral cortex is active.
- The corpus callosum, a bundle of nerve fibres that links the left and right cerebral hemispheres, is significantly larger in musicians than in non-musicians.
The last point is interesting. When there is good communication between the two hemispheres, the result is an optimal learning state of integrated thought, a key to higher-level reasoning and creativity. The more both hemispheres are activated, the more neural connections form across the corpus callosum and the faster the data processing. The faster this processing, the more efficiently the intellect can function.
This is clear evidence of the relationship between musical experience and the relative size of brain structures. The greatest brain-plasticity effects occur for musicians who start playing before the age of seven, but the brain continues to change throughout adult life, which results in an increased ability to learn. Increasing proof of brain plasticity challenges key aspects of IQ theory, which views both intelligence and brain structure as being fixed.
An excerpt from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin
“A must read for all music educators” – Robert Adams, New Haven, USA.
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Also by Michael Griffin
Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents. “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at Amazon.com
Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.
View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!” – St George College, Australia
Available at Amazon.com
Bumblebee! is more than just a collection of 84 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.
“This is really good for all kinds of vocal groups, choirs, conductors. Bravo!!”
“The thinking person’s guide to training a choir. Love it!”
“It’s great to have some fresh warm-ups to add to the repertory. The tips for actions and techniques are really useful, and the advice at the back of the book has made me review some of my strategies.”
Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging. Available at Amazon.com