Did you know that listening to music and playing an instrument is a great way to maintain your brain health? Our brains begin the aging process in our twenties and there is a natural cognitive shift as we continue to age. However, our brains are very plastic in nature, meaning that there are physical changes that help us learn new tasks and that help keep our billions of neurons in shape at any age. This malleability is what allows us to learn the lyrics to a new song or to learn how to play a new instrument at any time in our lives. Our brains physically, chemically and functionally adapt to these new demands.
What is particularly interesting is that while learning a new song (or learning to play an instrument) can help with your brain’s overall health, there is a natural syncopation happening in that by improving your auditory processing speed with specific brain exercises you can improve your ability to play and listen to music. When it comes to appreciating music your hearing is vitally important and you may be surprised to learn that you hear a sound only after your brain finishes processing the frequencies received from your ears. That is, hearing depends on your brain as much as on your ears. And capturing every single note played in your favourite classical piece requires a sharp brain wired to identify, react to and process sound quickly and accurately.
When you hear different sounds, it is the basilar membrane in your ear that is reacting to the different frequencies. This is a flat piece of tissue in the cochlea of the inner ear that vibrates at different locations when different frequencies hit it. Low frequency tones vibrate one end and high tone frequencies will vibrate more at the other end, much like the bars on a xylophone. And, much like notes on the xylophone when specific groups of neurons are activated you can tell which tones have struck the basilar membrane.
In order to continue identifying these sounds properly, it is essential that our brains can immediately differentiate frequency sweeps. And that fine differentiation, unfortunately, declines when we pass our 20s.
By training our brains to be fine-tuned for hearing, we can precisely capture every nuance of Pavarotti singing the Una furtiva lacrima aria. Being “wired for sound,” so to say, is what allows us to be “in the moment” of the performance and to process all the extra information when we don’t have to focus on actively listening to what is sung or played. This helps us understand the pain infused into the lyrics and the emotional outpouring added to the performance. When our brains can process sound information quickly, we can think about all the other aspects of a musical performance instead of focussing on trying to keep up with listening.
Say, you are listening to André Rieu’s Radetzky March. You may know the history of the piece, how Strauss dedicated it to Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz and that the tone is more celebratory rather than marshal. If your brain is trained to hear the music that you already know, you will be able to better pick up the flourishes and embellishments of the conductor and musicians. These little nuanced aspects are the core of musical performance, from how the conductor and musicians interpret the fortes and larghettos to how a jazz improviser can perform in such a way that there are no wrong notes, simply the notes of the night.
Taking steps to retrain your billions of neurons to do their job more effectively and to clearly distinguish sounds, sharpen your hearing and increase listening accuracy is essential when you are a music admirer and want to take in all those fine details. Learn how BrainHQ, the unique clinically proven cognitive training program can help you with your hearing and listening skills, auditory and visual memories, even balance and mobility, and more!