The Perks of Being a Musician
I love music. As a musician I love getting wrapped up in some of my favorite songs. I've been in a school band since I was ten, took piano lessons for five years, and am now participating in a jazz club at my school. When the jazz club plays music at the school café, a lot of people will tell us that the music we made was great for studying. But lately, I've noticed a few things that tell me music can do a lot more than many of us realize—and not just for people listening to it, either.
It's no secret that music affects us as listeners. Different styles can set the atmosphere around us and affect the way we think and feel. When we were little our parents had us listen to slow, soft music that calmed us down and made us feel sleepy. As adults, we have loud, fast-paced songs that set the right atmosphere for working out. During the summer Olympics, we'd always see Michael Phelps listening to heavy rap right before a race. Jazz and classical music create a good environment for mental activities because they can stimulate the brain. I've come across a handful of videos on YouTube that people found helpful for studying. There's even the famous statement made in The Incredibles: “Mozart makes babies smarter!”
So we know how music affects an audience, but how does music affect musicians? As a musician, I discovered in the last few weeks that being invested in music affects people just as much as listening to it. For example, a musician can use certain aspects of singing/playing an instrument when public speaking becomes necessary. The other day, I had to practice public speaking skills for a class. When I finished reading, my professor told me that I needed to slow down. She told me that, as a musician, I could use a mental metronome to allow me to slow down enough to let the words sink in, or use volume and fluctuation in my voice to emphasize important words.
That's only scratching the surface. When I'm playing my instrument, I find that my sense of hearing is strengthened. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't give me super-hearing; I won't be able to hear anything outside the room unless it's an atomic bomb. But it allows me to hear the other people in the ensemble, which I'm always doing in the jazz club so that I know when to play. It happens to the other kids in the jazz club too, and they use this during practice to make sure that the rhythm section (drums and guitars) of the band sound united. We also use our enhanced hearing while improvising to make sure that our solos sound like part of the song rather than random sounds outside the club.
I've noticed a few other things that I hadn't thought much about before: My memory isn't perfect, but I've found moments where I remember things that other people don't. I can't see the big picture of a certain memory, but I can pick out different details of it that create the big picture. Coincidentally, playing an instrument improved posture as well. Last weekend at a retreat my music instructor had us team up and walk a relay race involving keeping a folder on our heads. Everyone in the race performed a lot better than I expected.
Realizing these things made me want to look into it more, so I did. And by doing so, I've learned that a person's brain develops differently when he or she starts learning how to play an instrument. In Canada, a group of experts in neuroscience and psychology conducted a year-long experiment involving two groups of children: one group of children who began taking music lessons for the year, and one group of children who did not. Throughout the experiment they would examine the children's brains to take a look at how music training affected them. By the end of the year, the results showed that learning how to play an instrument improves memory, hearing, and brain development. (1)
This may be my last year of being part of a school band, but I know that my time as a musician is far from over. And if you want to learn how to play an instrument, I say go for it. It's never too late to learn something new.