Music and learning – tuning the brain to learn

Today I found Alice’s blog about living, studying (and working) in Korea.
Her post about playing an instrument made me think since I too used to play. To be honest, instuments have been on my mind a few times this week since I found out that a guy in my class used to play the clarinet like me (what a coincidence), and it used to be a relatively big part of my life as a teen.

Ok, a little disclaimer here: I was no prodigy, I played only a few years and had to be reminded to practice fairly often. I was regularly praised by my teacher, but when he suggested I join an orchestra I was not convinced I could manage.

However, I firmly believe that playing music helps learning in very concrete ways that are useful for learners of other things than music:
– It helps you focus: you have to think about what you’re doing when playing an instrument.
– You improve your ability to combine thinking and acting: reading notes while doing one thing with left hand and another thing with the right hand.
– You improve your ability to see patterns.

Then of course there are the character aspects that Alice also mentions: to become a good musician, you have to keep going even when it’s tough, it doesn’t sound right, and you would much rather do pretty much anything else.

Why is it worth considering in the sphere of languages?

Attention span:
Nowadays people’s ability to concentrate seems to be close to non-existent. When looking at my classmates, people are constantly somewhere else mentally, be it on facebook, a news site or doing something else that is completely unrelated to the lecture they are supposed to be following. And this is graduate school… These are the people who have supposedly picked a programme that actually appealed to them.
When was the last time we did something and allowed it to absorb us completely? I have yet to meet someone who managed to update facebook, check the news, text a few friends and play Bach on violin at the same time… However, I have met people who seem to think it is perfectly possible if the activity you should be doing is learning something academic.

Improving memory:
I’ve met people who can barely remember their own phone number and say about everything “I can always look it up”. And yes, we can most of the time, but even though knowing things by heart can be an aweful lof of work, it just helps tremendously if you don’t have to look up the most basic things. If your prof can make you feel embarrassed about not remembering something then imagine the day someone is paying you to know. In some professions, you might even end up with a liability suit if you don’t know and someone makes a very expensive mistake because of it.
Playing music helps us tune our memory as most teachers will include some element of rote learning even if not following the Suzuki system. One thing that annoys me when studying Korean is looking up the same word every few pages.

Seeing patterns:
Being able to see and remember patterns, similarities and differences is the learner’s version of finding a gold mine. This is something that is automatically trained when playing music, but it comes in really, really handy when you’re studying grammar patterns and vocabulary too!

Recharging batteries:
Playing an instrument is not always associated with happiness and rainbows, but that being said, it can be quite fun too.

So why did I quit playing? There are several reasons for that… Work load to get the grades for my uni programme, vocational training classical ballet on the side, and some other things which were relevant for my decision, but I will not burden you with in this post. I sometimes miss playing and when I go to see a performance the place my teacher still plays, I always listen for his warm-up routine if I cannot make my way to the orchestra pit before the performance.

I have played since then, sometimes just for fun, other times as a way to let out frustration in a socially acceptable way. And practicing scales has also proven a brilliant way to retaliate against a particularly noisy neighbour after a night of particularly loud second-hand party music.

Out of curiosity, how many of you play an instrument or used to play? Which instrument?


3 thoughts on “Music and learning – tuning the brain to learn

  1. darkfire382

    I’ve played bass for 5 years (electric bass – 5; upright bass – 6 months BUT OMG I MISS IT), piano for 3 years and alto saxophone for 2 years. It’s been a while since I’ve touched any of my beautiful instruments (I’m sorry my babies… ;A;) because of college, but I’m making a movement to start playing again. Music is something I always loved even if I was struggling like hell with a piece. It was always something that calmed me from everything else and really taught me how significant those small steps you make- accomplishments and failures -towards the entire goal.

    Kinda random: OMG YOU DO BALLET TOO?! I MISS IT TToTT I wanna be back en pointe but it’s been about 4 years without classes so I definitely need to rebuild strength in my legs.

    1. koreanlearner Post author

      Wow, so many instruments! I really wanted to play the piano too, but the piano teacher wouldn’t let me since my parents couldn’t give me a piano to practice at home. Staying after school to practice everyday when there was no-one using the piano was not allowed 😦

      I remember looking in awe at the pieces whenever my clarinet teacher got me a new book and thinking “how the heck does he expect me to do this?” and every time I completed a piece was a victory.
      Maybe we should both start playing again 😀
      It shouldn’t be too time consuming in the beginning, at least for winds, since it’s impossible to play more than 20 min anyway due to lack of stamina hehehe.

      Yep, I danced too 🙂 I followed the RAD syllabus, but when I got to Advanced 2 and my teacher found out that I still wanted to go to university rather than join a ballet company, she got very upset and we never really came to see eye to eye on the matter. In the end I decided to switch schools to a teacher who accepted that I am a geeky girl too.

      1. darkfire382

        I remember when I started playing a wind instument and I was like @.@ from controlling my breathing and from using so much air in general. XD I’m probably back to that stage again since it’s been so long. orz

        D: I wish your former teacher supported what you wanted to do, but at least you found one that did. And wow, Advanced 2? That’s amazing. 😀 I’ll admit that I just looked up videos on the RAD syllabus since I’ve never heard of it. XD

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