Brain scans show that listening to music lights up all areas of the brain. Perhaps this is not surprising: the language of music is mathematical, pattern-based and logical, and it is also expressive, creative and emotional. Yet what is perhaps less well known is that when you practice music, this neural activity intensifies: with neural ‘fireworks’ going off across both left and right hemispheres of the brain. It is the only activity which is known to have this incredible effect.
This has borne out in my personal experience. As a young person struggling with depression, I found that playing the piano was not only an opportunity to express myself, but akin to a complete brain massage; as though it reordered erratic activity in my brain and left me feeling calm, much more sane (yippee!), and with a very rich experience of reality. I have no doubt that the neural links forged across the brain have contributed to my love of physics and philosophy (two other logic-based subjects that rely on imaginative and creative vision). Dancing The Paradox, my unpublished book, is a philosophical fiction which explores various conundrums in physics and maths. I am convinced that the pathways which music – particularly the practice of music – forges between left and right hemispheres of the brain, give incredible nutrition for good mental health and agility.
Yet isn’t music a specialist subject; only for those who are gifted or talented? After all it’s so technical, and abstract… or is it? This is where I think it gets really interesting!
Imagine trying to discuss maths without using numbers. We all know how to do sums like 2 x 2. However, trying to explain this in words soon becomes a nightmare! Here is a dictionary definition of multiplying:
“…a mathematical operation, symbolized by a × b, a ⋅ b, a ∗ b, or ab, and signifying, when a and b are positive integers, that a is to be added to itself as many times as there are units in b; the addition of a number to itself as often as is indicated by another number”
Painful! The fact is, maths needs its own language; numbers! Using words to describe maths soon becomes horribly technical. Music is no different. It has its own internal logic, its own structure and grammar. Using the language of music to understand music makes it easy! So here’s the good news. Musical language (for western music, at least) is do re mi fa so la ti.* It only has 7 components! Maths has 10 numbers to learn – and I bet you can do a lot with those. The English alphabet has 26 component parts, and here you are reading beautifully! So if you have an interest in setting your brain alight, and developing fluency in a language which seems to be utterly fundamental to us all, then please rest assured that it is easily within your grasp.
As many of you know I am a long time advocate and passionate enthusiast for the Da Capo approach to teaching music. Da Capo develop skills across the board: logical, kinaesthetic, aural and visual skills in reading and writing, coordination, pitch, pulse and rhythm, but also expressive and spontaneous skills in improvising; essentially internalising every aspect of music as a language. And through Da Capo’s playful approach, much of it is done through games.
Next week, with the support of Newtown’s wonderful Theatr Hafren and funding from the Arts Council of Wales through the National Lottery, I will be running Da Capo music sessions online, for all ages and stages. It is a bit of an experiment – these sessions are usually very interactive! But I am excited about giving it a go. Check out Lifebulb’s events for full details.
*Just to be clear, this is used to read normal music on the stave. If you have only ever seen it written in solfa form but never moved it to the stave you have an absolute delight coming your way!