In 2008, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer that had metastasized to different areas of my body. Most of the tumors shrank or disappeared with chemotherapy. Five months after treatments however, two more tumors located on the speech center of my brain were found. Doctors performed Gamma Knife Radiation Brain Surgery on them, and fortunately those cancer cells died off as well. (See earlier blog post under September 2010: Hard Rock – Pinktober Fest & My Cancer Story.)
I did have some concern at the time that all these treatments would somehow affect my cognitive functioning. My doctor suggested I exercise my mind with brain teasers, riddles and puzzles. I did choose to give my brain a ‘workout’ with these, and felt like I was back in grade school when we were given IQ games to help develop our cognitive abilities. I also found that playing music and writing poetry about music helped to give me clarity of mind. I have since then become curious to know what happens inside our ‘nogans’ when we are engaged in active thinking, dance, making art, listening to and playing music, and in the process of writing.
In this post, I will explore the effects of music on the brain:
Scientists used to think that the brain’s nerve cells, the neurons, continually started to die off from the time humans reached their early 20’s in age. Today, neuroscientists believe that the brain is more like other muscles in the body: if it is exercised, it strengthens at no matter what age a person has reached. In fact, the quantity of neural connectors, the dendrites and axons, actually increase when fed the right types of stimulation.
Playing music is one highly effective way to exercise the brain since it stimulates the production of neural connectors in many areas of the brain. In the past, neurologists thought that there was only one center in the brain for music, as there is for speech and motor skills. However, FMRI’s (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) technologies are now able to show that nerve cells, or neurons, fire off chemicals all over the brain as one creates music. The brain actually breaks music down into loudness, pitch, tempo, timbre, etc. It first detects these different qualities and then reconnects and interprets the information as music. We can’t tell that the brain is doing this because it happens within around 30 thousandths of a second – lightening fast! – and giving it a good workout.
Musicians are also known to have larger brains. Certain areas have greater amounts of grey matter. Logically this follows if the brain increases its neural connections when stimulated by music. Brain activity in non-musicians has also been shown to increase after only just a year of music lessons.
In addition, the more active one is with music, the greater the potential is for creating these connections as well. FMRI’s indicate that when someone sings, different areas of the brain ‘light up’ as neurons fire off electrical charges. When a person sings with another, even more areas become active because there is millisecond decision making being executed in order to stay in time and harmonize with the other. Brain activity increases even more if there are other instruments to time oneself to and a conductor to watch.
I felt that music, poetry, and my own ‘Music Poetry’, have helped me increase my cognitive functioning after it was dulled by chemotherapy and brain surgery. I like to think that I am doing my brain a world of good when I sit to focus on one or (as in my case) both of these arts at the same time. I am further glad to know that I can continue to develop my brain by keeping active in these artistic studies as I age. It makes me wonder why art and music are being taken out of our schools. It seems there is enough evidence to show their beneficial effects on brain development from cradle to old age. What is your opinion?
Please use the comments at the bottom of this post to tell me your own stories, poems, opinions and thoughts.
In the next post we will focus on how poetry requires both hemispheres of the brain to be created…
Here is a sample of Music Poetry to contemplate until then:
Soft sounds on the eardrum
Lead to temperate moods; calming actions.
The blissful ear
Is more likely to hear,
When states of mind
In fertile ground.
Sources: Optimizing Brain Fitness, by Prof. Richard Restak, The Great Courses, 2011;
Brain Building Games, by Allen D. Bragdon and David Gamon, Brainwaves Books, 2001;
The Music Instinct – Science and Song, Mannes Productions, Inc. 2009
Writing assignment: Write about how music has influenced your education.
Music assignment: Compose a few musical exercises that you feel challenges your cognitive abilities. (ex: a fugue)
Music Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltISpYhSsZs
To Order the Book, THE MUSIC IS WRITTEN by Tatiana Pietrzak, a collection of poetry about music: http://rosedogbooks-store.stores.yahoo.net/musiciswritten.html
Or call Rose Dog Books: 1-800-834-1803
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