Turn On Your Brain Lights: Play Guitar!
Exercise is a workout for your body that helps keep you fit, healthy, and young. Playing a guitar (or any musical instrument) has the same effect on your brain. While most activities we do use only a few areas of our brains at one time, playing a musical instrument energetically fires, and creates new brain cells, in your brain. Recently, brain researchers, aka "neuroscientists", have learned much more about how the human brain behaves during certain human activities. They did this by monitoring people hooked up to fMRI's, functional magnetic resonance imaging scanners, and PET, positron emission technology scanners, while they performed different activities in real time.
The study participants did such activities as mathematics, created art, played games, etc. As they did so, certain areas of their brains would light up on the fMRIs, or PET scans. These brain "firings" told the researchers which part of their brain was being activated by that particular activity.
When participants listened to music, the researchers likened the effect to watching fireworks go off over the entire brain, a different area firing in response to different elements in the music. Some parts of the brain responded to the melody, others to the rhythm, and other parts seemed to isolate, and respond to, random musical patterns - such as improvised guitar riff solos.
Then, the brain seemed to synthesize all the different parts into a unified musical event. Remarkably, the brain performs all these tasks in the first few seconds the listener perceives the music. A split second later, the listener has the melody and rhythm of the music down and is tapping their toe or fingers, swaying their head, or dancing along to it.
But, when the researchers studied people playing musical instruments, multiple areas of the brain lit up, as if a symphony of brain lights were playing, in amazingly fast sequences. They saw that playing music engages every area of the brain at once, especially these 3 areas:
And, that continually practicing a musical instrument strengthens these 3 areas so that we can apply those strengths to performing other activities.
Playing a musical instrument, especially a guitar, where both hands are performing a different activity, requires fine motor skills and strong coordination between brain, hands and hearing. So, both hemispheres of the brain become involved. It uses your linguistic and mathematics skills, which the left hemisphere controls, and also uses your sense of creativity that the right hemisphere controls.
Both hemispheres then perform akind of "ping pong game" of message relayback and forth between them to accomplish the activity. So, when you first start playing a musical instrument, your brain starts to create a whole new network of nerve pathways to be used for messaging between each hemisphere. This actually increases, and strengthens, the brain's corpus callosum, the "bridge" between the two hemispheres. The more you practice playing a musical instrument, the more skilled you become at solving other problems in academic and social settings.
In addition, because playing an instrument also involves understanding music's emotional content and message, your brain must further develop its higher, executive functions. This includes interlinking the tasks ofplanning, strategizing, attention to detail, cognitive and emotional skills. These same skills also helpall memory functions.
The researchers also found that musicians develop particularly enhanced memory skills.
They found that most musicians have the ability to create, store and retrieve memories more easily.They are subconsciously able to assign "tags" to bits of memory such as contextual, audio,and emotional.
In addition, guitarists, in general, seem to have specific intuitive perceptual capabilities that others do not. In a 2012 study out of Berlin , researchers found that 12 pairs of guitarists could subconsciously "brain synch" with each other just prior to playing their designated music.
They intuitively knew, it seemed, what the other guitarist would play.
In summary, playing guitar greatly increases your brain's overall functioning and health in general. It encourages, and strengthens, the connection between the 2 sides of your brain and their relay of messages. So, the more you practice playing guitar, the more "plastic", or capable of growth, in cognition, perception, detail and spatial orientation, your brain becomes. In short, playing guitar makes you smarter and keeps your brain cells energetically developing and firing. So,go get out your guitar and turn those brain lights on!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Maxwell is a professional musician and owner of Northville Guitar Lessons, a guitar school providing guitar lessons in Livonia, Plymouth, Novi, Canton and Northville Michigan .