Music and the Brain on Radiolab

Radiolab is one of my favorite podcasts: smart, funny, thoughtful, and at times mindbending. All artfully mixed and mastered into great storytelling that teaches. Here’s an episode on music and the brain that should be required listening for musicians. Covers music and the brain, music and language, sound as touch, and musical DNA. Hope you like it as much as I did.

Your Brain on Music (fMRI)

Music doesn’t make you smarter, at least not generally smarter, but playing music does make you musically smarter. In fact, there have been many recent studies showing profound differences in the brains of people who have studied music. One is that the corpus callosum, the “conduit” between the left and right sides of the brain, is…

Improving With Improv

To me, improvising is like speaking a language spontaneously, whereas only reading music and re-creating the music others (or yourself) have written is like reading a book or a story out loud. The reading is scripted, whereas the spontaneous use of language flows where it will, especially if it’s in conversation with another. If you’re new to improvising, it’s a simple thing to do.

Getting Loopy: More Practice Tools/Toys

I like to use electronics to make practice more fun and I think, more demanding. In this quick post I’ll show you the Boss Loop Station. It allows me to layer recordings. It can be used with a microphone (that’s how I record trumpet and various percussion), electronics (you can input beats or any other digital media), and/or guitar. Mine is set up with a microphone and guitar input. I won’t get into the details of how the loop station works, but here’s how such a device helps with practice.

Book Review: “Free Play,” by Stephen Nachmanovich

Free Play doesn’t deal directly with music practice, but it is nevertheless an important book for anyone interested in music (or other arts, or life). I strongly believe that improvisation benefits practice. To me, improvising is an essential musical skill, one possessed by musical greats (Hussein, Bach, Shankar, Beethoven, Duke, Mozart, etc.), and is practiced in musical traditions all over the world, as well as by young children who haven’t developed some of the fear associated with improvisation in those overly focused on the written notes. Remember when you drew letters over and over as a young child, taking great care (or not) with the shapes? Now imagine that despite all that practice time forming letters and sounding out words, that you never (ever) spoke extemporaneously. Crazy, right? To me, that’s about the same as practicing scales over and over until they’re memorized, but then never using that tonal material to improvise. Crazy talk! At the end of this review is a link to an mp3 of my improv group Meh! playing an improvised story with Nachmanovich.