Tickling the ivories today, tickles the neurons for a lifetime

brain stimulated by a little pian playingGood news, if your mother is or has made you take piano lessons, tickling those ivories, was not just exercise for your fingers, but you were tickling the neurons.

The week’s Neurotechnology Tip encourages you to have a musical jam session since making music makes brain connections improving brain function.

Grannies with rhythm have better brains

Researchers at the University of Kansas, enrolled 70 old folks in a study. The people included in their study were between 60 and 83. They all had similar levels of education and fitness, plus they had no signs of dementia. The people in the study were asked about their music making experiences before being put through a series of cognitive tests.

People in the study were classified into one of three groups :

  • non-musicians – people who had never played a musical instrument
  • low-level “musicians” – people who dabbled but never got into music making
  • “musicians” – people who were pretty competent but they were never paid to make music

The more musical the individual the better they performed in the brain tests. The “musicians” were much better at visuospatial memory (remembering the position of things), naming things and better at adapting to new information (cognitive flexibility).

Music making like a gym workout for the brain

The researchers speculate that musical activity makes your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating challenges because learning to play an instrument is quite challenging.

In order to produce sweet sounding melodies you need to

  • first learn the notes (some people manage to feel it, others quite literally, have to read the dots on a music sheet and translate this into particular position on the instrument).
  • then you need to execute the note requires co-ordinating various bits of the body around the instrument to generate the appropriate sound while
  • keeping to a specific tempo

To be semi-competent requires hours and hours of practice. This is the part of music making which is not a lot of fun and the primary reason why those piano lessons seldom generate too much pleasure.

But putting the whole deal together ends up re-routing the wiring in the brain. The improved wiring helps out in the short term, improving brain performance.

The cool thing is, the re-routing lasts a life time.

Music buzzes the brain across a life time

Based on the results of this study, the music wiring comes in handy when the brain starts to get a bit fuzzy as it ages.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to practice for 50 years – most of the “musicians” had retired their instruments years ago but the wiring was still in place to give them the improved performance.

Let the music play on….

It is not too late to make a little music.

Hit the high notes as well as the books. Both activities might feel like hard work now, but both will benefit you for the rest of your life.

The relation between instrumental musical activity and cognitive aging.  Neuropsychology (2011) 25(3):378-386. Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, Alicia MacKay.

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Did you learn something new or do you have a different perspective ? I’d love to hear from you so post me a comment below…..

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