“All art aspires towards the condition of music.” ~ Walter Pater
Playing a musical instrument is the best workout I know for my brain, as well as for invigorating my whole body. Meditation follows a close second alongside some other pleasurable activities…
During a practice session I feel totally alive; my mind seems to be at its most creative, and yet clear of life’s ‘junk’. I can be myself when I’m playing my violin; happily ensconced in a ‘flow state’ with no judgment or expectation other than to enjoy my activity.
I may not be on stage in a world-class concert hall, (only in my imagination), in reality I’m in my lounge and completely engaged in a joyful fusion of physical and mental exercise.
The thought of not being able to play inspired the premise for my novel, The Virtuoso.
While I’m playing Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Vivaldi my brain is doing the ultimate multi-tasking, coordinating on an epic scale:
It’s enabling me to read the notes, to perform challenging passages of semi-quaver notes, to react quickly with tricky incidental notes, trills and possible key changes during the piece, let alone changing position on the fingerboard, deciding what digit goes where, what bowing technique is required, the dynamics of the music and, of course intonation and my unique interpretation based on how the music makes me feel as I play it.
Imagine coordinating that many processes in a split second. Brain plasticity is an incredible process. It must be an orchestra of simultaneous sparks, a symphony of synapses in there, lighting up all over the place!
Science has backed me up on that one. How playing an instrument benefits your brain – Anita Collins:
Afterwards I find myself in a special space, my mind is empty yet energised and I just write. Ideas flow. It doesn’t last forever, but I try to make the most of it! Those alpha brain waves are the good guys, they usher in our most creative moments when we’re in a state of relaxed concentration.
Music really is instrumental in improving brain function and cognitive ability.
You may relate to my joy if you play an instrument. I don’t mean to be unnecessarily sombre, but if music disappeared overnight, for whatever reason, what would become of our species? I don’t think I could live in a world devoid of such a rich, cultural heritage…
A fascinating talk from the late neurologist Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain:
This short video shows Dr. Sacks’s brain activity as he listens to music by Bach, his favourite composer compared with that of Beethoven:
A great excerpt from a talk about the history of music by Dr. Daniel Levitin, who argues against Steven Pinker, asserting that music preceded language:
I wanted to share with you my own verses; poetry which most certainly does not compare to the likes of Keats or Shelley, but which is nonetheless genuinely reflective of my love for music; both playing and listening.
Music Makes Me Feel…
First came the hypnotic rhythm of Beethoven,
Moonlight tones passing through my mother’s womb;
Loving piano gently infiltrates fleshy oven,
Beautiful harmony surrounds the warm, watery tomb
My whole being is receptive, active, listening,
Later in life, it will make my spirit sing.
Orchestras fill our home, my education starts,
Lessons begin on the violin; fun but hard,
Before long I am hooked, for joy it imparts,
Bowing, scraping, hand stretching on fingerboard,
The right note eludes me, again and again,
Eventually, fingers know their place more than pain.
Pulsing air waves elicit ecstasy, and poignant lingering,
Oscillations match to memories from the deep,
Such moving melody, well-spring of suffering,
Black notes on treble or bass clef; ready to leap
From musicians instruments, creating composer’s passions
Hypnotism says Ludwig van, to force same emotions.
Major or minor key, varying dynamics and tempo
Music mirrors every sacred moment of life,
Soft, soothing adagio or a galloping allegro,
Good vibrations comfort me when in strife;
Open your heart to its flowing, healing tune,
And fill your soul with rapture, thrilling croon.
Ancient, divine sounds, evolving over millennia,
Effect is more visceral than art, sculpture, literature.
No mode of communication stirs like an aria;
Universal language communes with our nature,
Eclectic music of mankind, such profound apotheosis,
Ultimate expression of humanity: Quo Vadis?
Apart from the sound of my mother’s voice, this timeless and peaceful composition by Beethoven that my mum used to play was probably one of the first things I ever heard:
Sound when stretched is music.
Movement when stretched is dance.
Mind when stretched is meditation.
Life when stretched is celebration. ~ Sri Sri Ravishankar