This article, This Year, Change Your Mind, is written by (physician, best-selling author, and professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center), Oliver Sacks, M.D., and appeared in the New York Times, on 1/1/11.
He starts off by acknowledging that, at the New Year, many of us re-new our intentions to improve our physical bodies, with improved diet, exercise, etc.
But in this article, Dr. Sacks reminds us,
” … they can strengthen their brains in a similar way.”
The whole article is well worth the read, especially if you know anyone with learning or memory impairments, but my excerpt here has to do with music…
While it is often true that learning is easier in childhood, neuroscientists now know that the brain does not stop growing, even in our later years. Every time we practice an old skill or learn a new one, existing neural connections are strengthened and, over time, neurons create more connections to other neurons. Even new nerve cells can be generated.
I have had many reports from ordinary people who take up a new sport or a musical instrument in their 50s or 60s, and not only become quite proficient, but derive great joy from doing so. Eliza Bussey, a journalist in her mid-50s who now studies harp at the Peabody conservatory in Baltimore, could not read a note of music a few years ago. In a letter to me, she wrote about what it was like learning to play Handel’s “Passacaille”: “I have felt, for example, my brain and fingers trying to connect, to form new synapses. … I know that my brain has dramatically changed.” Ms. Bussey is no doubt right: her brain has changed.
Music is an especially powerful shaping force, for listening to and especially playing it engages many different areas of the brain, all of which must work in tandem: from reading musical notation and coordinating fine muscle movements in the hands, to evaluating and expressing rhythm and pitch, to associating music with memories and emotion.
Whole article: This Year, Change Your Mind.
[Photo by me… of a prized possession of mine, one that really changed MY mind. This is a test pressing of the album, “Imagine,” by John Lennon. It was given to me to play on the air, which I did a lot, when I was the first full-time female radio DJ in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1971.]