Les Paul, and ‘The Log’

“I took a length of 4 x 4 pine, put an Epiphone neck on it, wound a couple of homemade pickups and mounted them on the wood. Then I added a bridge and a Vibrola tailpiece, strung it up, and I had the Log. It was crude, but when I plugged it into an amp, it worked.
On a Saturday night, I took it to The Sheik, a little club in Sunnyside, where I played the same songs (on the Log) with the same trio I often jammed with, and nobody gave much notice to it. I was getting a very cool, unusual sound with this electric Log … A piece of lumber being played as an electric guitar was something nobody had ever seen before, or even thought of, but it didn’t seem to make a big impression.
So I went back to the Epiphone factory, took the sound box of an old Epiphone archtop, and sawed it in half right down the middle. Then I braced up the halves so they could be
attached to the sides… With wings attached, I took the Log
back to the same club, and jammed again with the same trio.
And to my surprise, there was a great reaction. Everyone
started talking about the unusual sound and asking questions about the guitar and my amplifier. There was a positive reaction to the sound I got that night, which was the same sound the same people had heard before. So I came to the conclusion that people hear with their eyes.” –Les Paul
No photo description available.

Where did all the key changes go?

Where did all the key changes go?

The key change has been used by musicians like Beyoncé, Travis Scott, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Michael Jackson for decades. Nowadays, it’s getting harder and harder to find in top songs.

Kevin Winter/The Recording Academy/Getty Images; Rick Kern/Getty Images; Ron Galella/Getty Images; GARCIA/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Many of the biggest hits in pop music used to have something in common: a key change, like the one you hear in Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

But key changes have become harder to find in top hits.

Chris Dalla Riva, a musician and data analyst at Audiomack, wanted to learn more about what it takes to compose a top hit. He spent the last few years listening to every number one hit listed on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1958 – more than 1100 songs.

“I just started noticing some trends, and I set down to writing about them,” says Dalla Riva, who published some of those findings in an article for the website Tedium.

He found that about a quarter of those songs from the 1960s to the 1990s included a key change.

But from 2010 to 2020, there was just one top song: Travis Scott’s 2018 track, “Sicko Mode.”

How the key change is used in pop music

According to Dalla Riva, changing the key – or shifting the base scale of a song – is a tool used across musical genres to “inject energy” into a pop number.

There are two common ways to place a key change into a top hit, he says. The first is to take the key up toward the end of a number, like Beyoncé does in her 2011 song “Love on Top,” which took listeners through four consecutive key changes. This placement helps a song crescendo to its climax.

The second common placement, Dalla Riva says, is in the middle of a song to signal a change in mood. The Beach Boys took this approach in their 1966 release “Good Vibrations,” as did Scott’s “Sicko Mode.”

“The key is just a tool,” Dalla Riva says. “And like all tools and music, the idea is to evoke emotion.”

Key changes falling flat

According to NYU professor and author of “Dilla Time” Dan Charnas, the key change has faded out of popularity alongside the often slow and emotional ballad, which he calls a “bastion of key changes.” Meanwhile, hip-hop has taken center stage.

“Hip-hop is a rejection of a lot of the tropes of traditional musicianship,” Charnas says. Music composition has also changed, prioritizing rhythm and texture over individual notes and chords.

There are some numbers from the late 80s, like Michael Jackson’s 1988 hit “Man in the Mirror,” where the key change can be seen as both a mark of beauty and a cliché.

“You can look at that song in two different ways. On one level, it’s a perfectly constructed song, a beautiful piece of songwriting. A lot of craft goes into it,” Charnas says. “In another view, it’s tropey, maudlin and completely manipulative.”

While the key change was once a mark of musical sophistication, many now consider it a crutch. Dalla Riva says a lot of his peers think using the key change is lazy.

“It’s just like you get to the last chorus and you’re like, all right, we need to inject some more energy. Let’s just shift the key up a half-step or a whole step.”

Where pop music is headed

Some fans and pop music experts might be inclined to mourn the “death” of the key change, but Charnas says musical tools and composition techniques are constantly evolving.

“There’s lots of ways to get dynamics in a song and in a composition,” Charnas says. “Key change is just one of the ways.”

In the absence of key changes – and in a time where hip-hop and electronic music have gained popularity – composers have turned to varying rhythmic patterns and more evocative lyrics.

And if you’re one of those folks who wants the key change to come back, Charnas believes there’s one way to do it: fund music education.

“You want to know why Motown was such an incredible font of composition? Three words: Detroit Public Schools.”

Though it can be cliched, Charnas says he does miss hearing a key change when it’s used at its best.

“Do I miss good key changes? Absolutely. Do I wish more people could rock a key change like Stevie Wonder? Absolutely.”


The divine origin of music and flute in Greek Mythology

The divine origin of music and flute in Greek Mythology

by Yulia Berry

The ancient Greeks thought music was of divine origin. The gods and Muses were connected with music, and some even invented musical instruments: the lyre by Hermes or Apollo, the simple flute by Athene, the shepherd’s flute by Pan.

The Greeks cultivated music at a very early epoch. They used it not only for entertainment and all kinds of events, but also gave it a great importance in refining the feelings and building the character. Numerous myths tell us how powerful the music can be. (Remember the beautiful and sad myth of Orpheus and Euridice?)

At the public festivals, such the Pythian games the Greeks also held music contests. Athens, the home of Greek dramatic poetry, in its golden age was the main city where professional musicians met each other. Public concerts became common towards the end of the Republic and formed a part of the musical contests. By the time of the Persian Wars the music got to its highest point of the development, which completed the ancient system.

Dancing and music entertainment became common at the meals of aristocratic families. Younger family members took instruction in these arts, as it was a part of higher education.

It’s interesting to note that the flute playing was limited to certain occasions, as its sound seemed to the ancients to arouse enthusiasm and passion [Aristotle, Politics, viii 3].  For example, dramatic music was introduced with the Greek Drama, but limited to flute-playing.

Let’s review some mentions to flute and music in Greek mythology.


Euterpe is one of the nine muses, fathered by Zeus. All the muses were assigned various roles and Euterpe became Muse of Music and Lyric Poetry. She is almost always depicted holding a flute.

Eustache Lesueur 1626-1656 Paris Clio, Euterpe et Thalie 1655 Louvre.

Composers often drew inspirarion from the Greek myphology. Below are a few pieces that any flutist, who loves myphology, can add to their repertoire:

Euterpe by Augusta Read Thomas. A two-minute fanfare composed in 2008.

Euterpe: Greek Muse of Music by Kevin Kaisershot. Composed in a moderate 4/4 time, the flute soloist gets a chance to show their technical ability intertwined with ornamentation in a light and lilting melody.


The goddess Athena was the goddess of wisdom, strategy in warfare, and crafts. She was the patroness of the city of Athenes and helped Greek heroes, such as Hercules and Odysseus on their adventures.

Athene invented the flute, but discarded it after discovering that her face is distorted while playing.

Hyginus included a great story about Athena’s flute in his book, written in Latin around 300-400 A.D.

“They say that (Athena) was the first to fashion a flute out of deer-bone. She came to the gods’ banquet table to play it, but (Hera) and (Aphrodite) made fun of her because she turned blue and puffed out her cheeks.”

Athena ran to a forest and tried to play it again by herself. Suddenly she caught her reflection in a stream and realized that her fellow goddesses were right.

“There was every reason for them to poke fun at her,” wrote Hyginus.

Athena got so upset that she threw out the flute and cursed it. The curse would severely punish anyone who picks up the flute.

The satyr Marsyas found the discarded instrument and learned how to play it.


Marsyas became so skilled in flute playing that he challenged Apollo, the god of music (!), to a musical duel! It was judged by the Muses and King Midas (who later got the golden touch). The terms of the duel stated that the winner could treat the defeated side any way he wanted.

First, Marsyas played such a wild and coaxing tune that the birds hopped from the trees to get near, the animals came up closer, and the trees swayed as if they wanted to dance. Then, all living creatures started dancing wildly, and Midas thought it was the sweetest music in the world.

When it got to his turn, Apollo rose, holding a golden lyre in his hands. He touched the strings of the lyre, and suddenly the music mesmerized them all. Never before gods or mortals heard anything as beautiful and emotional as Apollo’s music. The wild creatures stood still, the trees kept every leaf from rustling, and the earth and air went utterly silent. When Apollo stopped playing, it took some time for the spell of his music to break. Finally, the listeners fell at Apollo’s feet and proclaimed him the winner.

All but Midas, who alone would not admit that the music was better than Marsyas. “If thine ears are so dull, mortal,” said Apollo, “they shall take the shape that best suits them.”

Apollo touched the ears of Midas, and they turned into the donkey ears.

Karel van Mander, 1548-1606, Amsterdam. Landscape with the Judgment of Midas. 

However, several versions tell us more about how it all went at the end.

The most notable are found in Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, Hyginus’ Fabulae, 165, Pseudo-Apollodorus’ Bibliotheke i.4.2, and Pliny’s Natural History 16.89. 

According to Hyginus, Marsyas was departing as the victor after the first round, when Apollo turned his lyre upside down and played the same tune. Marsyas could not do with his flute, so he succumbed.

According to Diodorus Siculus, who admired Marsyas for his intelligence and self-control, he was defeated when Apollo started singing along playing the lyre. Marsyas protested, arguing that it is not fair because he can’t sing while playing the flute. However, Apollo replied that by blowing into the flute, Marsyas was doing almost the same thing himself. Thus, the Muses supported Apollo and announced his victory.

Yet another version states that Marsyas played the flute out of tune! Out of shame, he accepted the defeat and Apollo’s punishment, which was absolutely cruel. Apollo had the satyr strung up by a tree and flayed alive. The legends describe how his skin was nailed to a pine tree and moved joyfully when a flute was played.

Guido Reni, 1575-1642, Bologna. Apollo flaying Marsyas, 1633

Marsyas’ brothers, nymphs, gods, and goddesses mourned his death. Their tears, according to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, were the source of the river Marsyas in Phrygia, which today is called Çine Creek. A bridge on the river Marsyas, built towards the end of the Roman period, is still called by the satyr’s name, Marsyas.

The contest symbolizes the eternal struggle between two aspects of human nature and has been a favorite subject in art.

Paintings taking Marsyas as a subject also include “Apollo and Marsyas” by Michelangelo Anselmi (c. 1492 – c.1554), “The Flaying of Marsyas” by Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), the Flaying of Marsyas by Titian (c. 1570–1576) and “Apollo and Marsyas” by Bartolomeo Manfredi (St. Louis Art Museum).

There are beautiful music compositions that will make a great addition to any flutist repertoir:

Leonardo Lorenzo, Mythological Suite Suite mitologica, for flute, op. 38 has three parts: Pan, Marsyas and Apollo.

Lorenzo (1875-1962) was an Italian virtuoso flutist, composer for the flute repertoire, researcher and prominent flute pedagogue. Among his students was Julius Baker. He was a soloist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Gustav Mahler and had a very successful flute career.

Pan and Syrinx

One of the most famous myths about Pan told us about the origin of his pan flute. A pan flute is also known as panpipes or Syrinx. It consists of multiple pipes without lateral holes, which are fastened together and gradually increasing in length. The pipes are typically made from local reeds, giant cane, or bamboo. Other materials include wood, plastic, metal, and ivory.

Pan was the god of the wild and patron of shepherds. He was half-goat and half-man. The Romans identified Pan with the Italian Faunus.

Ovid included the story of Pan and Syrinx in Book One of the Metamorphoses.

The story begins when Pan fell in love with a nymph named Syrinx. One day while romping through the forest of Arcadia, Pan saw a beautiful nymph Syrinx, a daughter of the River God, Ladon. Pan immediately felt a desire and determination to have the beautiful nymph for himself. Syrinx was used to being pursued because her incredible beauty brought her lots of unwanted attention from both gods and men. Syrinx was a skilled huntress who could move fast through a forest and could endure a long run. She could easily elude her pursuers in the past, but unfirtunately not this time. Unlike the other men, Pan was able to run for long periods of time through the forests and mountains without tiring. He chased Syrinx for days through the hills, mountains, forests and valleys of Arcadia. Syrinx was exhausted and desperate to escape Pan’s chase. She ran to the river, where she begged her father, river god Ladon to help her. A moment before Pan’s grasp, she was turned into wild marsh reeds.

Syrinx by Rubens, Peter Paul; 1577–1640, and Brueghel, Jan the Younger; 1601–1687.
“Landscape with Pan and Syrinx”, undated.

(Figures painted by Rubens, landscape and birds by Brueghel)

Enraged, Pan smashed the marsh reeds into pieces. As he sat at the river bank distraught over his lost “love,” the wind picked up and blew through the broken reeds. It made a magical sound, which reminded Pan the sweet melody of Syrinx’s voice. Desperate to hear her voice again, Pan gathered nine different sizes of broken marsh reeds, tied them together in a line from smallest to largest, and named the instrument Syrinx in honor of his reluctant love.

In the end, Pan got what he wanted – he never spent a day without his love.

Pan playing his pipes by Walter Crane, 1883

The legend inspired some of the greatest composers to write incredibly beautiful music and flute solos.

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Claude Debussy

In 1894 Claude Debussy wrote a beautiful symphonic poem Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun). It is based on the poem by the famous French poet Stephané Mallarme.

At the premiere in Paris, the flute solo was played by Georges Barrère.

Gustave Doret, the conductor who premiered the piece wrote in his memoirs, Temps et contretemps, 1942:

“There was a vast silence in the hall as I ascended to the podium and our splendid flutist, Barrère, unfolded his opening line. All at once I felt behind me, as some conductors can, an audience that was totally spellbound. It was a complete triumph, and I had no hesitation in breaking the rule forbidding encores.”

Composer and conductor Pierre Boulez even declared that

“the flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music.”

There are many available arrangements for flutists who would like to perform the solo at concerts.

Syrinx by Claude Debussy

In 1913 Debussy wrote a piece for solo flute Syrinx, expressing Pan’s sadness over losing his love. The work became incredibly popular and is an indispensable part of any flutist’s repertoire.

La Flûte De Pan, op.15 by J.Mouquet

In 1904 Jules Mouquet composed sonata La Flûte De Pan, op.15 for flute and piano. It includes Pan et les Bergers, Pan et les Oiseaux and Pan et les Nymphes. There is also a version for flute and orchestra.  The sonata is dedicated to French flutist and teacher Léopold Jean Baptiste Lafleurance, who had been a student of Paul Taffanel. Jules Mouquet taught at the Conservatoire de Paris in the early 1900s as a professor of harmony and composition.

Bourdin, Chanson De Pan, Flute Solo piece (1968)

Roger Bourdin (1923-1976) was a French flutist. He was a professor at the Versailles conservatory. He founded a flute quartet with Pol Mule, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Eugène Masson in 1945. Bourdin had a successful carrier as a performer, teacher and conductor.

Jacques Charpentier: Pour Syrinx (Flute & Piano)

Jacques Charpentier (1933-2017) was a French composer and organist. Pour Syrinx was published in 2002.


In Greek mythology, Daphnis was a Sicilian shepherd who was the son of Hermes and a nymph who created the genre of pastoral poetry and was taught by Pan to play the shepherd’s flute. In the later legends, he was named a teacher of Marsyas.

Pan teaching Daphnis to play the flute

In the second century A.D., Greek novelist Longus wrote Daphnis and Chloe. The story tells us about a girl and a boy, abandoned at birth and brought up by shepherds. They fall in love at an early age, but soon get kidnapped and separated. After several adventures, they reunited.

“Daphnis et Chloé” by Baron François Gérard, 1824-1825

Maurice Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1912) refers to Pan and Syrinx’s story. Pan is described throughout a flute solo after he appears to rescue Chloé from pirates. At the banquette in his honor, he plays a passionate and tender melody, remembering Syrinx, while Chloé dances. The flute solo became one of the most important solos in the flute orchestral repertoire and is often included in audition requirements.

There is an arrangement for flute and piano Daphnis et Chloe, Suite no.2 and more various arrangements for flute ensembles on the same website.

Orpheus and Eurydice

Ovid opened the Book 10 of Metamorphoses with one of the greatest and most enduring stories of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Ary Scheffer (1795–1858), Orpheus Mourning the Death of Eurydice (c 1814)

Orpheus loses the love of his life Eurydice after she is bitten by a poisonous snake. He mourns his loss and the whole world mourns with him. Heartbroken and desperate, he starts begging Hades, the god of the underworld to give her back. Moved by his love Hades agrees to this, but with one condition: he must not look back to his beloved before they are safe together again in the world of men.

Edward Poynter (1836–1919), Orpheus and Eurydice (1862)

He fails at the end, and loses Eurydice this time forever.
After three years a group of female worshipers of god Dionysys, called Maenads, blind hatred, teared him alive to pieces for refusing to entertain them while mourning the loss of his wife. His soul floats down to Hades, where he is finally reunited with Eurydice.

Dance of the Blessed Spirits

In 1762 Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote opera Orfeo ed Euridice. It was the first of Gluck’s “reform” operas in which he attempted to replace the complex music and plot from the traditional ‘opera seria’ for more clean and simpler structure.
Since the premiere happened for the birthday of Emperor Franz of Austria, Gluck was forced to change the bloodthirsty end.

In 1774 Gluck revised the score for a production by the Paris Opera and included a ballet part Dance of the blessed spirits, which contains a famous flute solo.

Hector Berlioz wrote in his Treatise on Instrumentation (1843):

“When listening to the D-minor melody of the pantomime in the Elysian-Fields scene in Orfeo, one is immediately convinced that only a flute could play this melody appropriately… The voice starts almost inaudibly, seeming afraid to be overheard; then it sighs softly and rise to the expression of reproach, of deep pain, to the cry of a heart torn by incurable wounds; gradually it sinks into a plaint, a sigh, and the sorrowful murmur of a resigned soul. Gluck was, indeed, a great poet!”

The flute repertoire has more beautiful pieces, based on Greek mythology.

Polymnia e Tersicore for Solo Flute by Onorio Zaralli

Polymnia is the Muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn, dance, and eloquence as well as agriculture and pantomime. Tersicore (Terpsicore) is one of the nine Muses and goddess of dance and chorus.

The Nymphs by Onorio Zaralli for piccolo and three flutes.

Different from other goddesses, nymphs are generally regarded as divine spirits who animate nature, and are usually depicted as beautiful, young nubile maidens who love to dance and sing; their amorous freedom sets them apart from the restricted and chaste wives and daughters of the Greek polis. They are beloved by many and dwell in mountainous regions and forests by springs or rivers.
Other nymphs, always in the shape of young maidens, were part of the retinue of a god, such as Dionysus, Hermes, or Pan, or a goddess, generally the huntress Artemis.
Nymphs tended to frequent areas distant from humans but could be encountered by lone travelers outside the village, where their music might be heard, and the traveler could spy on their dancing or bathing in a stream or pool, either during the noon heat or in the middle of the night. Nymphs were the frequent target of satyrs.

I hope this article made you inspired to dive into the incredibly beautiful, dramatic and intense world of Greek Mythology and explore the available flute repertoire.


Yulia Berry

Music, Emotion, and Well-Being

How does music affect the way we think, feel, and behave?

Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.
 Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

One of the most important issues in the psychology of music is how music affects emotional experience (Juslin, 2019). Music has the ability to evoke powerful emotional responses such as chills and thrills in listeners.

Positive emotions dominate musical experiences. Pleasurable music may lead to the release of neurotransmitters associated with reward, such as dopamine. Listening to music is an easy way to alter mood or relieve stress. People use music in their everyday lives to regulate, enhance, and diminish undesirable emotional states (e.g., stress, fatigue). How does music listening produce emotions and pleasure in listeners?

1. Musical pleasure. The enjoyment of music appears to involve the same pleasure center in the brain as other forms of pleasure, such as food, sex, and drugs. Evidence shows that an aesthetic stimulus, such as music, can naturally target the dopamine systems of the brain that are typically involved in highly reinforcing and addictive behaviors.

In one study, participants listened to their favorite songs after taking naltrexone. Naltrexone is a widely prescribed drug for treating addiction disorders. The researchers found that when study subjects took naltrexone, they reported that their favorite songs were no longer pleasurable (Malik et al., 2017). However, not everyone experiences intense emotional responses to music. Roughly 5% of the populations do not experience chills. This incapacity to derive pleasure specifically from music has been called musical anhedonia.

2. Musical anticipation. Music can be experienced as pleasurable both when it fulfills and violates expectations. The more unexpected the events in music, the more surprising is the musical experience (Gebauer & Kringelbach, 2012). We appreciate music that is less predictable and slightly more complex.

3. Refined emotions. There is also an intellectual component to the appreciation for music. The dopamine systems do not work in isolation, and their influence will be largely dependent on their interaction with other regions of the brain. That is, our ability to enjoy music can be seen as the outcome of our human emotional brain and its more recently evolved neocortex. Evidence shows that people who consistently respond emotionally to aesthetic musical stimuli possess stronger white matter connectivity between their auditory cortex and the areas associated with emotional processing, which means the two areas communicate more efficiently (Sachs et al., 2016).

4. Memories. Memories are one of the important ways in which musical events evoke emotions. As the late physician Oliver Sacks has noted, musical emotions and musical memory can survive long after other forms of memory have disappeared. Part of the reason for the durable power of music appears to be that listening to music engages many parts of the brain, triggering connections and creating associations.

5. Action tendency. Music often creates strong action tendencies to move in coordination with the music (e.g., dancing, foot-tapping). Our internal rhythms (e.g., heart rate) speed up or slow down to become one with the music. We float and move with the music.

6. Emotional Mimicry. Music doesn’t only evoke emotions at the individual level, but also at the interpersonal and intergroup level. Listeners mirror their reactions to what the music expresses, such as sadness from sad music, or cheer from happy music. Similarly, ambient music affects shoppers’ and diners’ moods.

7. Consumer behavior. Background music has a surprisingly strong influence on consumer behavior. For example, one study (North, et al., 1999) exposed customers in a supermarket drinks section to either French music or German music. The results showed that French wine outsold German wine when French music was played, whereas German wine outsold French wine when German music was played.

8. Mood regulation. People crave ‘escapism’ during uncertain times to avoid their woes and troubles. Music offers a resource for emotion regulation. People use music to achieve various goals, such as to energize, maintain focus on a task, and reduce boredom. For instance, sad music enables the listener to disengage from the distressing situations (breakup, death, etc.), and focus instead on the beauty of the music. Further, lyrics that resonate with the listener’s personal experience can give voice to feelings or experiences that one might not be able to express oneself.

9. Time perception. Music is a powerful emotional stimulus that changes our relationship with time. Time does indeed seem to fly when listening to pleasant music. Music is therefore used in waiting rooms to reduce the subjective duration of time spent waiting and in supermarkets to encourage people to stay for longer and buy more (Droit-Volet, et al., 2013). Hearing pleasant music seems to divert attention away from time processing. Moreover, this attention-related shortening effect appears to be greater in the case of calm music with a slow tempo.

10. Identity development. Music can be a powerful tool for identity development (Lidskog, 2016). Young people derive a sense of identity from music. For example, the movie Blinded by the Light shows the power of Springsteen songs to speak to Javed’s experience on a personal level. The lyrics help him to find a voice he never knew he had, and the courage to follow his dreams, find love, and assert himself.


Droit-Volet S, Ramos D, Bueno JL, Bigand E. (2013) Music, emotion, and time perception: the influence of subjective emotional valence and arousal? Front Psychol; 4:417. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00417.

Gebauer L, and Morten L. Kringelbach (2012) Ever-Changing Cycles of Musical Pleasure: The Role of Dopamine and Anticipation Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, Vol. 22, No. 2, 152–16.

Juslin PN (2019), Musical Emotions Explained, Oxford University Press.

Lidskog Rolf (2016), The role of music in ethnic identity formation in diaspora: a research review, International Social Science Journal, Vol. 66, nr 219-220, s. 23-38.

Malik Adiel, at al (2017) Anhedonia to music and mu-opioids: Evidence from the administration of naltrexone. Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 41952 DOI:10.1038/srep41952

North AC, Shilcock A, Hargreaves DJ. The effect of musical style on restaurant customers’ spending. Environ Behav. 2003;35:712–8.

Sachs E Matthew, et al., (2016), Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to music, Social and Affective Neuroscience. 1-8.

Banishing stage fright with the Jazzmen

Banishing stage fright with the Jazzmen

Last week I told you the story of Darryl Jones, who played bass for Sting when he started his solo career with the album Dream of the Blue Turtles. Today I want to tell you about another of Sting’s musicians, so that we can learn another useful tool to conquer stage fright.

To recap the story…

If you recall, Sting was trying something totally new. He was leaving a very successful band, and was striking it out on his own with a whole new group of musicians. They were about to play their first concert – a new band, playing a  set of songs where half were completely new and unheard, and all of which were being re-interpreted. Sting, if you recall, hadn’t got together just any old band. He had found a group of jazz musicians, and was creating a whole new jazz-rock fusion sound.

Director Michael Apted filmed the build-up to the concert. He asked each musician in turn if they were nervous. Last week we learned from Darryl Jones’ reply. This week we turn to saxophonist Branford Marsalis, to see what he can teach us.


The other jazz man.

Branford Marsalis is another profoundly inventive jazz musician. Back in 1985 he was just at the beginning of his career, but he already had an impressive resume. And he was never one to mince his words! So when Michael Apted asked him if he was nervous about the upcoming gig with Sting, this is what he said:.

“If I was Sting I might be nervous but I’m not Sting, I play jazz, I know what it’s like to be shat on, you know what I mean? I am a jazz musician, I know what it’s like to play some stuff that nobody wants to hear.”*

I know this is a little stronger language than normally appears in my articles, so bear with me… 🙂

Branford Marsalis isn’t nervous. Why not? Because he is used to an audience not necessarily liking the music he is playing! Marsalis here leads us towards what I believe is a very strong motivating factor that lies behind many performers’ stage fright:

they fear the audience’s bad opinion.

Fear of the audience is a strong reason why people fear going out to perform. Back when I worked in professional theatre, I can remember actors nervously  peering out from the wings, scanning the audience suspiciously, and wondering if they would be a ‘good’ house that night. And by ‘good’, they meant an audience that liked them and liked the play.

Wanting to be liked is completely understandable and natural. The problem arises when we think about the audience so much that we begin to lose sight of what it is that we need to do in order to win their good opinion.

We need to perform.

In other words, we need to summon up all that we have learned from our hours of research and rehearsal, all the work that we have done, and carry out the performance in a way that we have reasoned out is going to best achieve our goals.

‘But shouldn’t we be thinking about the audience?’ I hear you cry. Well… Yes, but not in the way that most people do. Obviously we need to remember that the audience is there. But do we need to tie ourselves in knots to try to please them? Well, no, not according to Branford Marsalis! His experience very clearly included situations where, in pursuit of his creative goals, he played in such a way that the audience just didn’t like it. On that day. At that time.

The thing is, not everyone can be happy all the time. But what might you sacrifice in order to satisfy your audience? What if Stravinsky had burned the score of The Rite of Spring straight after its controversial first performance? Western classical music would have been very different!

FM Alexander said, “where the ‘means-whereby’ are right for the purpose, desired ends will come. They are inevitable. Why then be concerned as to the manner or speed of their coming? we should reserve all thought, energy. And concern for the means whereby we may command the manner of their coming.”

Branford Marsalis, when faced with the choice of playing the way he wanted, or trying to be ‘right’ for the audience, chose to play in the way that he had decided was best. He stuck with the process he had chosen. And fear of the audience’s reaction became unimportant as a result.

What about you? Will you stick to the process you’ve reasoned out will get you to your goal?

* Sting, Bring on the Night, directed by Michael Apted. Quote occurs at about 60.58 on the DVD release.
** FM Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living in the Irdeat Complete Edition, p.587.

The 110-year-old Titanic violin that miraculously survived the sinking ship

The 110-year-old Titanic violin that miraculously survived the sinking ship

The violin that survived the Titanic belonged to bandmaster Wallace Hartley, who perished with the ship.
The violin that survived the Titanic belonged to bandmaster Wallace Hartley, who perished with the ship. Picture: Getty / Alamy

By Siena Linton

This violin holds a lifetime of stories in the grain of its wood…

Of all the instruments in the world, violins and other string instruments are often renowned for their longevity, with the centuries-old creations of Italian luthiers, Amati and Stradivari, holding hundreds of years’ worth of stories, and selling for millions of pounds today.

Few, however, can compete with that of the Titanic violin – the instrument played in April 1912, as the RMS Titanic sank into the North Atlantic Ocean after its fatal collision with an iceberg.

Today, the violin is held at the Titanic Museum in Tennessee, as part of their public display of artefacts and memorabilia from the ship.

But the story of how it got there is not quite so simple…

An inscription on the tailpiece of the violin, which helped to identify it as the instrument Maria Robinson gifted to her new fiancé Wallace Hartley as an engagement present, before he set sail on RMS Titanic.
An inscription on the tailpiece of the violin, which helped to identify it as the instrument Maria Robinson gifted to her new fiancé Wallace Hartley as an engagement present, before he set sail on RMS Titanic. Picture: Getty

A wedding that never took place

The now-famous violin was crafted in Germany in 1910, and was gifted to Wallace Hartley of Colne, Lancashire, as an engagement present from his new fiancée Maria Robinson. An inscription on the instrument’s tailpiece read, ‘For Wallace, on the occasion of our engagement, from Maria’.

The sweethearts likely met in Leeds, where Hartley played as a musician in various institutions around the city. Having previously provided musical entertainment on the RMS Mauretania, Hartley was contacted shortly before the RMS Titanic departed from Southampton on its maiden voyage with a request that he become its bandleader.

After his initial reluctance at leaving his fiancée, Hartley agreed to join the transatlantic crossing, hoping to secure future work with some new contacts before returning for his June wedding.

Tragically, the wedding never took place. Four days into the crossing, the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic ocean, and sank on the 15 April 1912, taking more than 1,500 passengers and crew members with it – Hartley included.

The 1997 Titanic film, directed by James Cameron and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, immortalised the depiction of the ship’s musicians performing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ as the ship sank.
The 1997 Titanic film, directed by James Cameron and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, immortalised the depiction of the ship’s musicians performing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ as the ship sank. Picture: Alamy

‘Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight’

In a depiction made famous by the 1997 film Titanic (see above), the eight musicians on board the ship continued to play amid the havoc, as women, children and first-class passengers were loaded hurriedly onto lifeboats.

At maximum capacity, the lifeboats barely had space for half the people on the ship, and as the wooden boats began to depart with seats still vacant, it soon became clear that many of those still on board the rapidly sinking cruise liner would not be saved.

As was his command, bandleader Wallace H. Hartley gathered his seven fellow musicians to play music in an attempt to calm the pandemonium and still people’s fears. Survivors of the ship report that the band played upbeat music, including ragtime and popular comic songs of the late 19th and early 20th century.

One of the popular myths surrounding the Titanic and its historic fate is that the band played the hymn ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ in their final moments. Some accounts dispute this, claiming that the musicians were last heard playing Archibald Joyce’s waltz, ‘Dream of Autumn’, before abandoning their instruments.

A portrait of Wallace Hartley, bandmaster of the RMS Titanic who perished with the ship.
A portrait of Wallace Hartley, bandmaster of the RMS Titanic who perished with the ship. Picture: Alamy

If the musicians were indeed playing music to the very end, it does seem likely that Hartley would have chosen the hymn as their swan song.

Hartley’s father, Albion, was the choirmaster at the Methodist chapel in the family’s hometown, and had introduced ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ to the congregation.

Hartley had also told a former colleague on the Mauretania that, should he ever find himself aboard a sinking ship, the hymn would be one of two pieces he would play in his final moments – a chilling foreshadowing of events to come.

Only three of the musicians’ bodies were recovered from the wreckage, including Hartley’s. A detailed inventory documents the personal effects that were found with him, including a gold fountain pen and silver match box, both engraved with his initials, and a diamond solitaire ring.

The violin was discovered enclosed within a satchel, embossed with Wallace Hartley’s initials. It’s thought that the case could have played a role in preserving the violin against the icy salt water conditions of the Atlantic ocean.
The violin was discovered enclosed within a satchel, embossed with Wallace Hartley’s initials. It’s thought that the case could have played a role in preserving the violin against the icy salt water conditions of the Atlantic ocean. Picture: Getty

Rediscovered in an attic

Despite some reports to the contrary, there is no evidence that his violin was found strapped to his chest in its case. We do know, however, that it must have been recovered, along with a satchel embossed with Hartley’s initials, as a telegram transcript from Maria Robinson to the Provincial Secretary of Nova Scotia reads, ‘I would be most grateful if you could convey my heartfelt thanks to all who have made possible the return of my late fiancé’s violin’.

When Robinson died in 1939, her sister gave the violin to the Bridlington Salvation Army, who passed it on to a violin teacher. The teacher passed it on further, and in 2004 it was rediscovered in an attic in the UK.

Sceptics initially refused to believe that this could be the real thing, assuming that the violin would have been so badly damaged by water that it simply could not have survived.

However, after nine years of evidence gathering and forensic analysis, including CT scans and a certification by the Gemological Association of Great Britain, it was confirmed that this was, in fact, the violin that Wallace Hartley had played aboard the RMS Titanic.

Forensic experts certified that the engraving on the metal tailpiece was “contemporary with those made in 1910”, and that the instrument’s “corrosion deposits were considered compatible with immersion in sea water”.

Wallace Hartley’s headstone at the Methodist church in Colne, Lancashire, where his father was choirmaster, features an inscription of the famous hymn and a violin carved out of stone.
Wallace Hartley’s headstone at the Methodist church in Colne, Lancashire, where his father was choirmaster, features an inscription of the famous hymn and a violin carved out of stone. Picture: Alamy

Sold for nearly a million

On 19 October 2013, the violin was sold at auction by Henry Aldridge & Son in Wiltshire for £900,000 (equivalent to over £1,000,000 in 2022), a record figure for Titanic memorabilia. The previous record was thought to have been £220,000 paid in 2011 for a plan of the ship that had been used to inform the inquiry into the ship’s sinking.

The violin is irreparably damaged and deemed unplayable, with two large cracks caused by water damage and only two remaining strings. Its current owners are unknown, but believed to be British.

As for Hartley, he was buried in his hometown of Colne in Lancashire, at a funeral service that was attended by over 20,000 people, and included the hymn that will forever be associated with him, ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’.

The headstone of his final resting place includes an inscription of the hymn’s opening notes, above a violin carved out of stone.

Kimball Upright Piano

Fran McGaha in El Lago has a lovely upright Kimball piano that needs a new loving home, please give her a call if interested

IQ Tests Can’t Measure It, but ‘Cognitive Flexibility’ Is Key to Learning and Creativity

IQ Tests Can’t Measure It, but ‘Cognitive Flexibility’ Is Key to Learning and Creativity

Are you good at changing perspectives? If so, it may benefit you in more ways than you imagine.

  • Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian
  • Christelle Langley
  • Victoria Leong

Einstein thought imagination was crucial. Robert and Talbot Trudeau/Flickr, CC BY-NC

IQ is often hailed as a crucial driver of success, particularly in fields such as science, innovation and technology. In fact, many people have an endless fascination with the IQ scores of famous people. But the truth is that some of the greatest achievements by our species have primarily relied on qualities such as creativity, imagination, curiosity and empathy.

Many of these traits are embedded in what scientists call “cognitive flexibility” – a skill that enables us to switch between different concepts, or to adapt behaviour to achieve goals in a novel or changing environment. It is essentially about learning to learn and being able to be flexible about the way you learn. This includes changing strategies for optimal decision-making. In our ongoing research, we are trying to work out how people can best boost their cognitive flexibility.

Cognitive flexibility provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it. If you normally take the same route to work, but there are now roadworks on your usual route, what do you do? Some people remain rigid and stick to the original plan, despite the delay. More flexible people adapt to the unexpected event and problem-solve to find a solution.

Cognitive flexibility may have affected how people coped with the pandemic lockdowns, which produced new challenges around work and schooling. Some of us found it easier than others to adapt our routines to do many activities from home. Such flexible people may also have changed these routines from time to time, trying to find better and more varied ways of going about their day. Others, however, struggled and ultimately became more rigid in their thinking. They stuck to the same routine activities, with little flexibility or change.

Huge advantages

Flexible thinking is key to creativity – in other words, the ability to think of new ideas, make novel connections between ideas, and make new inventions. It also supports academic and work skills such as problem solving. That said, unlike working memory – how much you can remember at a certain time – it is largely independent of IQ, or “ crystallised intelligence”. For example, many visual artists may be of average intelligence, but highly creative and have produced masterpieces.

Contrary to many people’s beliefs, creativity is also important in science and innovation. For example, we have discovered that entrepreneurs who have created multiple companies are more cognitively flexible than managers of a similar age and IQ.

So does cognitive flexibility make people smarter in a way that isn’t always captured on IQ tests? We know that it leads to better “ cold cognition”, which is non-emotional or “rational” thinking, throughout the lifespan. For example, for children it leads to better reading abilities and better school performance.

It can also help protect against a number of biases, such as confirmation bias. That’s because people who are cognitively flexible are better at recognising potential faults in themselves and using strategies to overcome these faults.

Cognitive flexibility is also associated with higher resilience to negative life events, as well as better quality of life in older individuals. It can even be beneficial in emotional and social cognition: studies have shown that cognitive flexibility has a strong link to the ability to understand the emotions, thoughts and intentions of others.

The opposite of cognitive flexibility is cognitive rigidity, which is found in a number of mental health disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder and autism spectrum disorder.

Neuroimaging studies have shown that cognitive flexibility is dependent on a network of frontal and “striatal” brain regions. The frontal regions are associated with higher cognitive processes such as decision-making and problem solving. The striatal regions are instead linked with reward and motivation.

Some people have more flexible brains. Utthapon wiratepsupon/Shutterstock

There are a number of ways to objectively assess people’s cognitive flexibility, including the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test and the CANTAB Intra-Extra Dimensional Set Shift Task.

Boosting Flexibility

The good news is that it seems you can train cognitive flexibility. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, is an evidence-based psychological therapy which helps people change their patterns of thoughts and behaviour. For example, a person with depression who has not been contacted by a friend in a week may attribute this to the friend no longer liking them. In CBT, the goal is to reconstruct their thinking to consider more flexible options, such as the friend being busy or unable to contact them.

Structure learning – the ability to extract information about the structure of a complex environment and decipher initially incomprehensible streams of sensory information – is another potential way forward. We know that this type of learning involves similar frontal and striatal brain regions as cognitive flexibility.

In a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Nanyang Technological University, we are currently working on a “real world” experiment to determine whether structural learning can actually lead to improved cognitive flexibility.

Studies have shown the benefits of training cognitive flexibility, for example in children with autism. After training cognitive flexibility, the children showed not only improved performance on cognitive tasks, but also improved social interaction and communication. In addition, cognitive flexibility training has been shown to be beneficial for children without autism and in older adults.

As we come out of the pandemic, we will need to ensure that in teaching and training new skills, people also learn to be cognitively flexible in their thinking. This will provide them with greater resilience and wellbeing in the future.

Cognitive flexibility is essential for society to flourish. It can help maximise the potential of individuals to create innovative ideas and creative inventions. Ultimately, it is such qualities we need to solve the big challenges of today, including global warming, preservation of the natural world, clean and sustainable energy and food security.

Professors Trevor Robbins, Annabel Chen and Zoe Kourtzi also contributed to this article.


It’s 2006. I’m on the school bus listening to my iPod, when on comes Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.The song begins softly, a wistful Cash singing of loss and regret over sparse acoustic plucking.

As a freshman in high school, I know nothing of the song’s mature themes of aging and death. But about halfway through the song, something happens. The guitar and piano increase in volume, and Cash’s voice starts to crescendo. I feel the hairs stand on the back of my neck. A warm shiver runs up my spine, and goosebumps appear on my arms. It feels like something important is happening. I don’t know what exactly. But something is coming.

And the moment I expect the song will decrescendo, as it had in the previous chorus… It doesn’t. Cash’s voice wails over a pounding piano and guitar that threatens to blow out my headphones.

Suddenly, my body is seized by a rapturous electricity; my mind is invigorated by an indescribable fusion of ecstasy, awe, despair, and longing. And in an instant, I realize something deep in my bones:

This is what it feels like to be alive.

The physiology of frisson

There is a word that describes this common human response to music — a word for “that moment” when a song pierces your body and soul. It’s called “frisson,” and it’s the reason why music from artists as seemingly disparate as Johnny Cash, Metallica, Céline Dion, and Mozart are all featured on a recently released, scientifically-backed playlist of songs that researchers claim are likely to give people “chills.” The 715-song playlist was curated by a team of neuroscientists and is available on Spotify.

Frisson” derives from French and is “a sudden feeling or sensation of excitement, emotion or thrill,” and the experience is not confined to music. Historically, frisson has been used interchangeably with the term “aesthetic chills.”

According to a 2019 study, one can experience frisson when staring at a brilliant sunset or a beautiful painting; when realizing a deep insight or truth; when reading a particularly resonant line of poetry; or when watching the climax of a film.

Researchers often describe frisson as a “piloerection” (or “skin orgasm”) noting that the experience retains similar “biological and psychological components to sexual orgasm.” Some refer to frisson as “pleasurable gooseflesh,” while others maintain that the definition should expand “to include other perceptible, non-dermal reactions such as tears, lump-in-throat sensations, and muscle tension/relaxation.”

While it is understood that appreciation of beauty is central to what makes us human, it is not clear to researchers what evolutionary advantage this sensitivity could have given our species. The current consensus is that it has something to do with our need to understand our environment:

“Aesthetic chills correspond to a satisfaction of humans’ internal drive to acquire knowledge about the external world and perceive objects and situations as meaningful. In humans, this need to explore and understand environmental conditions is a biological prerequisite for survival.”

What causes frisson?

In his 2006 book Sweet Anticipation, musicologist David Huron offers a compelling explanation for why we experience such powerful responses to music. He calls it “contrastive valence theory,” in which feeling states are strongly influenced by contrast.

“If we initially feel bad, and then we feel good, the good feeling tends to be stronger than if the good experience occurred without the preceding bad feeling.” This is due to a regulatory process called “cognitive appraisal,” in which our minds use cognitive and linguistic processes to reframe the meaning of a stimulus. Huron uses the idea of a surprise party to illustrate this phenomenon:

“When a person is unexpectedly surprised by her friends, the first response is one of terror: her eyelids retract and her jaw drops. But within half a second, fear is replaced by happy celebration as the individual recognizes her friends and the positive social meaning of the event.”

According to Huron, when the appraisal response confirms that there is no threat, contrastive valence transforms the negative feelings into something positive.

Consider Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” (one of three Metallica songs featured on the curated playlist). It is understandable if your immediate emotional reaction to the song’s shocking intro is one of fear and foreboding. But thanks to “cognitive reappraisal,” that initial adrenaline rush can be transformed into something positive when you realize that you are safe, and that it is music making you feel this way.

Also, notice how this experience is related to how our brains anticipate. This ties into Huron’s larger argument in Sweet Anticipation, which is built upon ideas popularized by renowned music psychologist Leonard Meyer.

The emotional power of violated expectations

According to an article in Frontiers in Psychology, “Expectancy violations (e.g., harmonic, rhythmic, and/or melodic violations) are strongly correlated to the onset of musical frisson, such that some level of violated expectation may be a prerequisite.”

Our minds, which evolved to predict future outcomes to ensure our survival, are always anticipating how something will play out. And when our initial predictions are wrong, depending on the situation, we can feel anything from anger to surprise to frisson.

Thinking back to my experience of listening to Johnny Cash, it was at the precise moment the song “violated my expectations” that I felt frisson. When I anticipated that the song would decrescendo, it crescendoed even more. And, as Huron’s book discusses, the most reliable indicator of musical frisson is an increase in loudness.

Other reliable indicators include the entry of one or more instruments or voices; an abrupt change of tempo or rhythm; a new or unexpected harmony; and abrupt modulation. Music psychologist John Sloboda found that the most common types of musical phrases to elicit frisson were “chord progressions descending the circle of fifths to the tonic.” This is a deeply affecting chord progression common in many of Mozart’s compositions.

Some researchers have also noted how the “human scream” can induce musical frisson. Huron writes:

“The adult human scream displays a disproportionate amount of energy in the broad 0-6 kHz region, where human hearing is best. A human scream is the sound humans can hear at the greatest distance.”

There are few things more powerful (or traumatic) than a human scream, and professor William O. Beeman, in his work Making Grown Men Weep, notes how professional singers (particularly opera singers) exploit this auditory sensitivity.

No music on Mars: Sound is different on the red planet

Consider the soaring choruses in Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” or Adele’s “Hello” or John Lennon’s screams on The Beatles’ “Twist & Shout” (all featured on the playlist). Or listen to Merry Clayton’s legendary backing vocals on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”

On YouTube, there is a clip from the 2013 film 20 Feet From Stardom in which Clayton’s vocal track is isolated. If you scan the comments section, you will see many people citing Clayton’s vocal as the reason behind the song’s power — particularly the accidental crack in her voice as she screams “murder.” Her howls are activating a primal response in us.

It should be noted that there are many different disciplines outside of evolutionary biology that offer compelling explanations of frisson, ranging from the anthropological (Jeanette Bicknell’s Why Music Moves Us) to the ethnomusicological (Judith Becker’s Deep Listeners) to the psychosocial study of “emotional contagion” (Patrik Juslin’s “Toward a Unified Theory of Musical Emotions”).

And Huron’s “Contrastive Valence Theory” can help us better understand what is going on behind the scenes when we experience this profound emotional state.

By stimulating and exploiting our primitive threat-detection systems, music activates deeply embedded neural networks that have evolved over millions of years. It’s no wonder why we feel songs so deeply in our core: Music reminds us what it is like to be alive.

The Surprising Benefits Of Playing An Instrument For people of all Ages

The Surprising Benefits Of Playing An Instrument For people of all Ages

Reduce Stress, Learn faster, Improve Your Brain Function And So Much More…

written by Terry Stefan founder of GuitarSignal.com

Long ago, when I picked up my first guitar, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I daydreamed about having a shiny gold Les Paul, just like all my favorite bands did. I wasn’t so much concerned with the benefits of playing guitar; I just wanted to look cool and learn my favorite songs.

Like so many new guitar players, I was quickly discouraged. All the concepts I was learning were challenging to master, my fingertips were killing me, and nothing was fun. I was ready to pack up my guitar and find a new hobby. Thankfully, I pressed on and kept learning. Twenty-something years later, I look back on how the guitar has made me a better person, and also that’s why I visit sites like Runthemusic to learn more about this.

Playing guitar isn’t just about learning an instrument. From your physical health to your mental health and beyond, the guitar can unlock a surprising array of benefits for you. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at all of them.

From physical health to mental health and beyond, instruments unlock an array of benefits.

Health Benefits

Beyond the fun of playing, the guitar can unlock many powerful benefits for your health.

Guitar As Therapy

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, pick up your guitar and see if you don’t feel better after the first few minutes of playing. Playing an instrument has the power to relieve stress and anxiety and reduce cortisol.

Research shows that this type of activity has the power to short circuit the brains traditional responses to stress and anxiety. Instead of allowing those feelings to manifest, when you’re playing an instrument, you’ll be surprised to see how quickly they melt away when you’re stimulating yourself by playing an instrument.

The BBC further posits that playing an instrument can raise your white blood cell count. White blood cells are critical to effective immune system response, and it seems it may also affect your sympathetic nervous system, which regulates our stress responses.

For Your Heart Strings

The clear mental benefits of playing an instrument are great, but there’s so much more playing an instrument can do for you. Playing music also has implications for your heart health.

Berklee School of Music’s Chairperson, Suzanne Hanser espouses the benefits of playing an instrument for your health, especially for older people. Playing can help to lower your blood pressure and reduce your heart rate. A recent BMJ study suggests the same heart health benefits.

Research shows that making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate.

Mental And Cognitive Benefits

Perhaps the most impressive health benefits of learning guitar are the cognitive and psychological benefits associated with learning an instrument.

Playing An Instrument Staves Off Mental Degeneration

Playing an instrument can also keep your brain sharp, helping to stave off degenerative diseases that are common in older people, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. In fact, seniors who engage in the kind of engaging mental activities like playing an instrument can reduce their risk of developing these conditions by up to 75%.

Other activities such as brain games like crossword puzzles or chess also help slow or prevent Alzheimer’s, as does dancing. But, as a musician, I’d argue none of these activities are quite as fun or enriching as playing an instrument.

Playing an instrument can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimers and Dementia by up to 75%.

The Cognitive Benefits Of Playing An Instrument

The guitar is particularly unique, as it seems that the brain of a guitar player BEHAVES differently than non-musicians’ brains. In a 2012 study in Berlin, researchers concluded that the neural networks of different guitar players appear to synchronize while they’re playing a piece of music and that synchronization actually occurs before they even begin playing.

Further, it seems that guitar players can toggle between conscious thought and unconscious thought during solos and other difficult passages. This suggests that learning the guitar allows players to tap into the creative side of their brain, allowing their ideas and virtuosity to flow through them uninhibited.

Playing an instrument has also shown to have an incredible effect on the plasticity of our brains. Pat Martino, the renowned jazz guitarist, had a severe brain hemorrhage in his 30’s, prompting scientists to remove a significant portion of his left temporal lobe. While Pat recovered from surgery, unfortunately, his playing ability did not. He completed lost the ability to play.

Within two years, Pat was able to relearn his instrument completely, and he approached it with the same virtuosity he had before his injury. This incredible development suggests a significant link between brain plasticity and playing an instrument.

While these benefits exist for everyone, they’re especially profound for children. The science is in, and playing an instrument can help improve brain structure and development. For kids who get an early start on learning, it looks like an instrument can also help improve long-term memory.

Playing an instrument can enhance brain development and improve long-term memory.

Music and Childhood Development

It’s clear that children are one group that stands to benefit the most from musical instruction. Through music, children can unlock many powerful benefits including improved listening and comprehension skills, improved concentration, and better performance in other academic subjects.

Cognitive Effects

Merely listening to music can unlock powerful mental benefits, but perhaps the truest improvements occur when students engage in playing music or music therapy. According to a recent Frontiers in Neuroscience study, researchers found that children who participate in playing music were able to better develop their memory, comprehension and listening skills, and concentration.

Music and Math

The scholastic benefits don’t stop there. There’s also a large body of research which suggests that learning a musical instrument improves a child’s ability mathematical reasoning and ability.

When you think about it, this connection is a no-brainer. At its core, music is about math. Time signatures are math, the number of beats in a measure is math, and many of the concepts of the guitar are also closely tied to mathematics.

We know that learning an instrument can improve your cognitive abilities, and studies show that musicianship affects executive functioning. Executive functioning is an area of skill that closely related to mathematics, as well as the development of many skills that the professional world demands.

Learning a musical instrument improves a child’s ability mathematical reasoning and ability.

Music and Creativity

In general, every aspect of neural processing seems to be improved when children learn an instrument. Beyond these tangible mental benefits, there are also implications for the general development of the student.

When it comes to guitars as therapy, students who take up the guitar can unlock a new creative outlet, expand their knowledge of music, as well as themselves and others. Once a student is confident enough to begin performing for an audience, the guitar is the tool that allows them to step outside their comfort zone while expanding their horizons.

Instruments can also be an exciting way to limit your children’s screen time. Any parent can tell you; it sometimes feels like they’re losing a battle to the screens in their child’s life. I can’t think of a better way to provide an alternative to tv and digital devices than playing an instrument. It’s also a great way to get the whole household involved in the fun.

Other Mental Benefits

Beyond the powerful mental and cognitive benefits above, learning an instrument can teach you import lessons about time management, goal setting and accomplishment, diligence, and productivity. All these are tools you’ll be able to tap into in your professional life.

Practicing your instrument touches on each of these aspects of professional development. You’ll learn how to set goals for yourself in your practice time, and how to diligently attack those goals by managing the way you practice and the time you spend on different areas of your instrument.

When you accomplish your goals, you’ll also feel a powerful sense of accomplishment that will inspire you to keep practicing, learning, and growing.

Musical practice can help develop persistence, time management and discipline.

Physical Benefits

If we capped this article right here, there’s already an incredibly strong case to begin learning an instrument. But there are still so many additional benefits associated with learning an instrument; including the profound physical benefits related to learning the guitar.

First, there are the obvious benefits. Playing guitar is physically demanding on your hands, and over time, regular playing will help you improve the flexibility, dexterity, and strength of your hands and wrists. Playing will also improve your motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

One area where you stand to benefit that you may not have considered: playing the guitar can actually help relieve pain. When we’re playing music, our brain has the powerful ability to divert our attention away from what’s bothering us, i.e., physical pain, so we can instead focus on playing an instrument.

Still asking yourself “why should I learn to play guitar?” What if you knew that it could actually help you lose weight? Merely sitting and playing will help you burn a modest 145 calories an hour. But, if you play standing up, you can accelerate that to an impressive 217 calories per hour. This is just another powerful benefit of this helpful hobby.

Playing guitar can reduce pain, improve coordination and help you lose weight.

Emotional Benefits

One of the most visible effects of playing a musical instrument is in your emotional health and wellbeing. Ask anyone who has played the guitar for any amount of time, and they’ll be quick to tell you how their instrument helps them express themselves, find more joy in life, improves their self-confidence and more.

Music as Self-Expression

Playing an instrument provides you with a powerful form of self-expression. Whether you’re learning how to play your favorite songs, or writing your own compositions, there are few ways that offer such an opportunity to express yourself quite like learning an instrument can.

Ask a guitar player how they feel when they’re performing, and they’ll be quick to tell you about the happiness and joy they feel when they’re on stage. It’s true, hearing the crowd cheer and yell as you provide the soundtrack to their evening can be downright euphoric.

An instrument also has the power to improve your self-confidence. Few things have the ability to make you feel the way you do when you begin to learn new things, conquer pieces that were once too difficult for you, and share your music with friends and family.

By expressing yourself on a public platform, you’ll not only become more confident in your ability as a guitar player; you’ll become more confident in other aspects of your life, as well.

Music, Meditation, and Consciousness

Playing an instrument is also a great way to learn patience, and find inner peace. The act of learning an instrument is predicated on hours of repetition, discipline, and practice. At first, it can be easy to lose concentration and focus, but over time it’s something you learn to revel in.

While we’re on the idea of finding inner peace, playing an instrument is actually a powerful form of meditation. Cultures throughout the world have realized the power of playing music as meditation for centuries.

In their powerful book Music and Consciousness, David and Eric Clarke posit that music has played an influential role in their meditation practice.

“Music, used as an object of study and a series of training exercises, can have a regulatory, balancing effect on the mind. Like the breath, music can be deliberately used as a bridge between the voluntary and autonomic nervous systems … It moves beyond intellectual, conceptual, discursive thinking towards an emotional, sensual realm.”

Learning music can also teach you to exist firmly rooted in the moment, a practice that mindfulness has sought to unlock for many years. Spend an hour or so working through some of your favorite practice routines and you’ll quickly realize how connected music is to meditation and mindfulness.

Finding Fulfillment Through Learning Music

Finally, playing an instrument allows you to unlock a powerful sense of self-fulfillment and achievement. Few things in the world feel quite like mastering a new piece or tackling a new piece or practice routine that was above your ability the last time you tried to learn it.

Cultures throughout the world understand the power of playing music as meditation for centuries.

Social Benefits

One area where the benefits of learning guitar are most profound is in the social benefits of learning an instrument and participating in making music with others.

Connecting with Others Through Playing Music

Participants in the Music for Life project met with researchers at the University of London to discuss their experience playing music with others as part of the Music for Life project. The participants were quick to point out the social connections they were able to forge with other people through this project.

In addition to allowing them to make new connections and meet new people, they also experienced other benefits, such as friendship and camaraderie, collaborative learning, and even teaching.

Most musicians are able to make lifelong connections through the practice of playing music, and these bonds can lead to fulfillment in other areas of life, as well. The people you play music with exist as a strong support network that you can call on when you’re overwhelmed by other aspects of life.

Scientists have discovered that this type of bonding also results in increased production of oxytocin, which is known as “the love hormone.” In simpler terms, this type of social interaction triggers that warm and fuzzy feeling within your body, which has severe implications on how you’re feeling and thinking.

By playing music with others, not only are you learning yourself, but you’re also teaching, helping others feel good, and enjoying the company of like-minded individuals. Just ask the members of New Horizons Band, a New York-based band composed of musicians from all walks of life.

Based on their reporting to researchers at the University of Illinois, members of the band were thankful for the opportunities music has brought them, including the ability to learn and refine their craft. But most importantly, members spoke highly of the social implications of playing in the band.

Through the band, members were able to create new social bonds, find fulfillment as part of a team, and by helping others, and improve their own self-images in the process.

The Powerful Effect of Teaching Music

When people engage in playing music collaboratively, something special happens. Not only do the players improve their abilities, and learn how to play as part of an ensemble; the social aspect of playing together allows them to explore and develop in other areas.

Players who have already mastered a passage are quick to offer assistance to others. It’s common for them to discuss what they’ve learned and how to apply it with others after their session is complete. This kind of social bonding and camaraderie is one of the most important and useful aspects of learning an instrument.

Many musicians make lifelong bonds through playing music, which can translate to other areas of life, too.

Other Benefits

Sure, the mental, physical, and social benefits of playing the guitar are well documented, and each benefit is a compelling reason why you should pick up an instrument and begin to learn. But, there’s still plenty more benefits that you may be able to enjoy by playing an instrument, and these are the fun ones.

Money, Power, and Success

Oh yeah, now we’re talking! Maybe you picked up the guitar for some of the reasons we’ve discussed above. But, if you’re like most people, you bought into the dreams of adoration from the opposite sex, millions of dollars, and the screaming legions of 30,000 fans at every stop on your tour.

While it isn’t likely, all of those daydreams can come true. Popular musicians are often catapulted to national success in acclaim, and with that, they get to enjoy everything they’ve ever dreamed of. From the adoration of fans to the lucrative concert and promotional bookings, playing the guitar is one way to cement yourself in the annals of history.

Even if you don’t achieve quite that level of acclaim, working musicians everywhere can make a living from their passion, while also unlocking a world of new experiences as they travel throughout the country and the world.

You can learn a lot about yourself and others through the windows of a tour bus, and beyond the social implications of this type of living, it’s also a great way to broaden your horizons, and your exposure to new things.

Working musicians everywhere can make a living from their passion.

Cultural Implications

Another powerful aspect of learning to play the guitar is the exposure to other cultures throughout the world. If you’re looking to explore different cultures, there are few more effective ways to do so than through learning a musical instrument.

It’s one thing to read a book or take a class that focuses on a specific culture, but by learning an instrument, you’ll actually be able to immerse yourself in that culture.

One of the unique qualities of the guitar is that unlike many other instruments, guitar and similar stringed instruments have played a significant role in virtually every type of popular music from the last several centuries.

From classical to jazz, to rhythm and blues, rock, and hip hop, the guitar has left a lasting stamp on almost all popular music.

As a guitar player, you’re able to explore all of these different styles and the impact that they’ve had on cultures throughout the world.

American culture, in particular, has been forever changed by the growth and popularity of the guitar.

In the early 1900s, guitar graced the stage with ragtime and jazz bands and played a supporting role in the development of jazz and the culture surrounding it. As time went on, the guitar became a lead instrument, and its imprint on the genre was masterfully crafted by artists like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and George Benson.

The guitar was also of paramount importance to the delta blues musicians of the early 20th century. This distinctly American music paved the way for the future of everything from pop to rock to r&b and hip hop.

It’s also interesting to explore how our culture is interconnected to other cultures throughout the world. The pentatonic scale, which is the framework of blues and many current pop styles in America is also found throughout centuries of Japanese music.

Even if you just explored the history and culture of America through playing the guitar, you’d have years and years of practice and learning ahead of you. For most musicians, you never stop exploring and learning about yourself and the world and culture around you through the lens of your guitar.

If you’re looking to explore different cultures, there are few more effective ways to do so than through learning a musical instrument.

Did I Mention…

There are still so many more reasons to play the guitar!

For one, even if you never become rich and famous as a musician, it’s still the easiest way to feel like a rockstar, if only for a short time. Through the guitar, you can learn to play just like your idols; you can learn their songs and style and interpret it in your own way through learning and practicing.

Guitar players also have great looking homes. The guitar itself is a work of art that’s rivaled by few things in the world, and they make some of the best decor for any room. Whenever you’re not playing, hang your guitars up on the wall for an instant conversation piece, and to add warmth, style, and personality to your living space.

Playing the guitar is also a great way to think back on your own memories. Music is a powerful connector. I’m sure you have certain songs that when you hear them, memories wash over you. That feeling is also powerful when you’re playing your old favorites and classics.

Best of all, learning to play the guitar is a skill that you’ll be able to carry with you forever. What may begin as a simple hobby can grow into a lifelong skill that helps you learn and grow personally, socially, and professionally.

Above all, it’s fun! I can’t think of many better ways to spend an afternoon than with my guitar, practicing, learning, and playing for my own enjoyment or the enjoyment of others.


The benefits of playing guitar are widespread, and they can have a profound effect on virtually every aspect of your life. Considering all these benefits, it’s hard to find a hobby or activity that’s able to provide as much enrichment as playing the guitar.

From the cognitive and mental benefits that everyone can unlock to the improvements that musical children see in their other scholastic subjects, learning an instrument has powerful implications for your brain’s development and fitness.

Beyond the brain, there are also many physical benefits associated with playing the guitar. Learning the guitar can help you reduce your blood pressure, improve your overall heart health, and boost your immunity. Plus, it’s a powerful form of therapy.

Then, there are the personal benefits. Learning guitar provides a limitless creative outlet, allowing you to express yourself while providing a boost in confidence, and powerful feelings of accomplishment and joy.

Socially, learning an instrument can profoundly affect your social life and your relationship with others while also providing a strong sense of fulfillment.

If all these reasons aren’t compelling enough, the benefits of playing guitar are well documented with regard to history, culture, and more. Taking up the guitar is a fun and enriching way to learn about your culture, and cultures throughout the world.

Whatever your reasons, playing guitar is one of the best ways to improve your health, wellbeing, and so much more.