The Brain and Memory: Music


Gates Recital Hall

West Chester University

West Chester, PA




Greetings!  As promised at the seminar, following are the studying techniques that are helpful to the brain.  There's SO much that goes on in the brain in order that the hands can create beautiful music on the piano.

I've also listed the books and articles I mentioned. 

If you have any questions or comments, do email me.  I'd love to hear from you.

Practice Practice Practice - smartly  

Practice SMARTLY (deliberately, attentively) to make and strengthen lots of neuron connections and to increase the myelin layers.

Ignore  F  A  D !!!   

Re-label it:  "Wow, it's NOT frustration or anxiety or distress... it's NEW connections being made!!  Awesome!

... because, it IS awesome

... because re-labeling calms the emotional part of the brain - the amygdala.


Break into smaller and smaller pieces  

Use our brain's default learning system of neurons connecting:  practice a few notes until they can be played perfectly, effortlessly, easily.  Then add on a few notes, then a few more.


Use our entire brain smartly  

Build as many networks by learning in as many ways as possible. 

Keep the brain supplied with fuel: oxygen, healthy glucose, water.

Manage stress (remember effect of epigenetics)

Get about eight hours of sleep:  the brain stores newly learned info MUCH more efficiently when we're sleeping -- especially in the HOUR before sleep.

Add new info to our existing networks with tools like Mnemonic Devices: 

... alliteration / acronym / acrostics / rhyme /

    routes / match names


Vary the settings, moods, timing  

Memory is so context-dependent. Make sure the brain is comfortable performing in all different environments (sound, energy, visual).  Even if there is no piano, sit and visualize your playing - hear your playing - feel the keys and pedals...


Mirror cells  

The same areas of the brain activate:

... when we see an action being performed

AND we perform it*

... when we hear music that we've already memorized

... when we see someone being touched and when we have some sensory experience then re-imagine it later.

The more familiar we are with the music (etc), the more activated those neurons will be.

* The mirror cells will only respond when we see someone else's hand grasp an object; it won't respond when we see a TOOL grasp an object.  That's because only human body parts are represented in the motor and premotor areas of the brain (the homunculus).  And, the movements have to be goal-directed... like, playing the piano.



Books, Articles, Reseach Papers, Mentions

[I didn't mention this book, but so much that I learned about how the brain works came from The Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are" - by Joseph LeDoux]


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 



Dennis Prager, Happiness is a Serious Problem


Exercise and the Brain

John J. Ratey, MD, Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain


Break it down into smaller pieces... and, practice slowly

Meadowmount School of Music and Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code: 


McGill University website: The Brain From Top To Bottom:

Finger muscle strength research study:


Context-Dependent Memory in Two Natural Environments:  On Land and Underwater:


Mirror Cells 

Neuroscientist Professor Giacomo Rizzolatti

VS Ramachandran - The Neurons That Shaped Civilization

(see the "Interactive Transcript" on the right side of the webpage) - The Brain Basis of Piano Performance

user friendly article:






Focal Dystonia

University of Konstanz, Germany

Excellent website:

... and anxiety and perfectionist tendencies  ("Focal dystonia in musicians: phenomenology, pathophysiology, triggering factors, and treatment")

Focal Dystonia of the Hand, And What the Brain Has To Do With It:


4 August 2011


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