“The Musical Mind”

June 1st, 2018

By Jaclyn DiLouie, Community Engagement Manager

Do you ever wonder what it means to make music? Are you one of those people who like to listen to music but feel like you “can’t carry a tune in a bucket?” How about those of you who can sing or play instruments but can’t read music? Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who feel like they can make music but have trouble reading it. In this blog, I am going to tell you what your brain is doing while you are making music (and for those of you who feel like you “can’t carry a tune in a bucket,” what other people’s brains are doing while making music).

Our brains are capable of doing amazing things. Our brains are multi-tasking even though we may feel like we are only focusing on one thing at a time. We are breathing air into our lungs, pumping blood through our systems, digesting food and our bodies are using the nutrients, blood and oxygen to make sure we can keep walking around and doing that one task (or several tasks) all at the same time. And yet, the brain keeps on working whether we are stressed or relaxed.

There are two halves to your brain, a right (creative) side, and a left (logical) side. “The left brain is more verbal, analytical and orderly than the right brain. It’s sometimes called the digital brain. It’s better at things like reading, writing and computations.”

“The right brain is more visual and intuitive. It’s sometimes referred to as the analog brain. It has a more creative and less organized way of thinking.” Healthline.com’s article “Left Brain vs. Right Brain” puts it very clearly. You may feel like you lean more heavily to one side or the other.

The Musical Mind uses both sides equally, though some people may feel like one part of music is easier to focus on than the others. The left, logical side of the brain is counting beats, reading (or listening) to the length of time each note lasts, computing and measuring how the melody or harmony goes up or down, how the melody and harmonies work together (how far apart those notes are that sound at the same time), how the chord progressions are moving, and themes that may repeat themselves, etc. The right, creative side of the brain is interpreting how it makes you feel, if you like, love or hate this particular style, how the melodies flow, how the words match the melodies and even how the moods are created with the intricate work of art created with the music.

Mr. Daniel Levitin (Author, “Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.”): I like to define music as organized sound because that’s an inclusive definition. It leaves open the possibility that some musical style that we may not like can still be considered music by someone else – the idea that a composer puts together sounds in a particular order and has some intentionality to it, has some purpose. And it also includes some of the avant-garde classical music by Robert Normandeau, a French Canadian composer who I like very much who doesn’t record with musical instruments. He goes out in the world and records sounds like trains going down the tracks and jackhammers, and he pitch-shifts them and shifts them in time and rhythm and makes little symphonies out of them. (NPR’s Article on “Exploring ‘Your Brain on Music.’)

For those musicians who don’t read music, you may feel like you aren’t using your left, logical side of your brain, but subconsciously you are. You may not be as aware of what you are doing, but you are counting beats and measuring the length of time notes are lasting. If you develop your musicianship more fully, and study your music theory, you will find that you were subconsciously unaware of it, but still using that side of your brain. Once you become more aware of it, and more comfortable with it, you will be able to actually pay attention to that side of your brain while you are making music. It makes you a better, more well-rounded musician.

We actually have music appreciation, musicianship courses and private and group music lessons here at The Arc Mercer. The general public in our community are more than welcome to join if you want to develop your musicianship, learn music theory or just come out and have a good time. If you are interested in registering or want more information, please contact Laura Tapp, our Family Support Coordinator, at ltapp@arcmercer.org or me, our Music Manager, at jdilouie@arcmercer.org. We are also looking for volunteers to help our program. Please consider signing up.


Healthline’s Online Article – “Left Brain vs. Right Brain”


NPR’s Online Article – “Exploring ‘Your Brain On Music’”