Saving for Later

Stick a pin in it – Saving these websites for later.

I keep a running list of articles, websites, leads that I want to investigate further. Here are some of the most interesting ones I have found lately.

I’m saving the article on the Hurrian Hymn for a more comprehensive look at the role of music through history.  The Hurrian Hymn is the oldest record of written music in the West. Written in cuneiform 3400 years ago, the clay tablet indicates pitches to be played on an ancient harp. On this website, you see the stone tablet and hear the Hurrian Hymn played on a recreation of the 9-string lyre.

Our Bones Talk To Our Brains

Our bones create osteocalcin, but when the bones fail to produce enough it can cause problems with blood sugar, anxiety, depression, and difficulty on spacial logic tests… at least for mice. Some of the speculation about the findings suggests that exercise can help maintain bone density. I wonder if the authors of this study have heard about this next study.

Protein Responsible for Linking Memory and Exercise

We know that exercise is good for memory. (See the Healthy Brains blog article and How We Learn blog article for more.) Now scientists have discovered a protein that may be responsible for creating new cells and connections in the brain. Muscles release this protein, called cathepsin, during exercise. Somehow the cathepsin travels to the brain and helps form memories. I thought that the link between memory and physical fitness had more to do with elevated oxygen levels or giving the brain different tasks, but it appears there may be another explanation.

Science Says Silence Is Important for Memory, Learning, and Emotional Health

Add a few more hours to my day, please. In addition to exercising vigorously, I also should be spending significant amounts of time in silence to optimize my brain function.

Singing Changes Your Brain

I’m saving this to share with my church choir as we dive deeper into the mystery of music and spirituality. Bottom line: join a choir! And I’ve got the perfect one for you…

Want to ‘train your brain’? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument

Another article on the many benefits of playing a musical instrument, including greater brain power and better emotional processing. Also discusses the benefits of musical training for people recovering from strokes or struggling with dyslexia.

Science Has Great News For People Who Can’t Sing

The voice is like any other muscle: use it or lose it. But fear not! Even if you’ve “lost it” or never had it, the voice can be trained at any time.

“Music education has loads of scientifically proven benefits: It improves reading and verbal skills, raises IQ, helps in learning new languages, slows the effects of aging, betters memory, enhances self-confidence and so much more. Singing in particular has great physical benefits too. It’s an aerobic activity that increases blood oxygenation, improves heart health and exercises core muscles.”

TED talk on practicing

Music Education Brain Research

Music Education and Brain Research

Music education in the public schools has been under attack for decades.  Although parents and teachers have advocated for more and better music programs, having seen the benefits to students, music programs are often the first programs to be cut when a school is under-funded. Neurologists are now conducting brain research that substantiates what we’ve intuitively always known about the advantages of early music education.

5th grade band concert

5th grade band concert – music education

The Brain and Music Program at USC

Researchers at USC have been conducting interesting experiments that will (hopefully) guide the education system in understanding how important music education is for students.

In October 2016, the USC researchers published a paper

“Neural correlates of accelerated auditory processing in children engaged in music training published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience”
(Volume 21, October 2016, Pages 1–14)

detailing the brain activity of students with music training vs. students who had not received music instruction.  Like other studies, their results were conclusive: studying music changes the brain in significant and important ways.

Their conclusion is that

These findings provide evidence that childhood music training has a measurable impact in the development of auditory processes. Although the findings described here are restricted to auditory skills and to their neural correlates, such enhanced maturation may favor faster and more efficient development of language skills as well, given that some of the neural substrates to these different processes are shared. Our findings demonstrate that music education has an important role to play in childhood development and add to the converging evidence that music training is capable of shaping skills that are ingredients of success in social and academic development. It is of particular importance that we show these effects in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.” (emphasis mine)

I have blogged about similar research in these posts:

Brain Imaging on Musicians

The Musician’s Brain

I’m wondering how much more empirical data we need to convince administrators that music isn’t just a fun “elective.” Music education is vital to the education of all students.

Musical Neurons

Musical Neurons

A recent study at MIT shows that there may be specialized neurons in the brain for processing music. These “musical neurons” are different than similar ones used to distinguish other sounds, like speech and environmental noises.

“Musical Neurons” Discovered in the Brain

“The implications of the findings are profound, suggesting that not only does musical aptitude and understanding have a specific seat within the brain, but that music may have played a crucial role in the evolution of the human nervous system.”

Follow up studies are planned to determine whether the “musical neurons” are acquired over time or present at birth. It has long been understood that music and language develop around the same time in a child’s brain. Many children will sing before they can talk. Further, we know that music has a strong correlation to memory. Even as an adult, I sing the “Alphabet Song” while filing music to remember the order of the letters. It’s much easier for me to sing the ABCs than to recite them. Because of the important links between music and language, early music education is rocket fuel for the developing brain.

This study may be another step to understanding how music is essential for being human.

Perhaps there is something hard-wired in our brains for processing, feeling, and making music. Are these neurons present at birth? Are they more developed in musicians? Does this research prove the academic advantages of brain training through music? Stay tuned!

The Musician’s Brain

The Musician’s Brain

Science is confirming the “Mozart Effect” through new advances in brain imaging.

When I was a music student (not so very long ago!) nobody knew much about the effect of music on the brain. When The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell was first published in 1997, its thesis was revolutionary. Music could heal the body and make you smarter! I remember buying the book when it first came out in hardcover and sharing it with anyone who would listen. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Campbell when he gave a lecture at the University of Colorado when I was in graduate school. Although some of the “music as medicine” parts seem a bit voodoo to me now, I still find it an inspiring book. In fact, I still have the copy that he autographed that day in Boulder. He wrote, “For Marlene- Blessings in Sound, Don Campbell.” It is a blessing, a benediction, a prayer that I carry with me now.

musician's brain

The Mozart Effect

The Mozart Effect‘s greatest achievement may be that it touched off decades of research about music’s effect on the human body. Now, with advances in brain imagery and new understandings about how the brain works, it seems like there’s a new study being published every week linking music and mind.

A recent one that I find interesting is “The Musician’s Brain” from the Journal of Neurobiological Sciences (2012.) In a nutshell, researcher Wichian Sittiprapaporn has made three discoveries:

  1. Listening to music engages multiple brain regions.
  2. The brains of musicians are significantly larger than non-musicians.
  3. Musicians hear and respond to music differently than non-musicians.

Because of the plasticity of the brains of young children, this study would indicate that early music education gives clear advantages in language, mathematics, memory, motor skills, and spatial abilities.

There is, of course, much work to be done in the fields of cognitive science and music psychology. Don Campbell set the wheels in motion. Now it’s up to the fancy brain imaging machines to confirm what we’ve known all along.


Temptation Bundling in the Practice Room

What is “temptation bundling” and how can we use it in the practice room?

Temptation bundling is when we take something that we’re not excited about doing and pair it with something that we really want. Katherine Milkman, researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, defines temptation bundling as

the coupling of instantly gratifying “want” activities (e.g., watching the next episode of a habit-forming television show, checking Facebook, receiving a pedicure, eating an indulgent meal) with engagement in a “should” behavior that provides long-term benefits but requires the exertion of willpower (e.g., exercising at the gym, completing a paper review, spending time with a difficult relative).

A recent Freakonomics podcast featured host Stephen Dubner interviewing Katherine Milkman about how temptation bundling can encourage us to make better choices (“When Willpower Isn’t Enough“). In her research at the University of Pennsylvania, Milkman found that people were far more likely to reach their exercise goals when going to the gym was paired with listening to an addicting book on tape. (Holding the Hunger Games Hostage At the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling.)

As I was listening to the podcast, I was thinking about how musicians can use behavioral economic theory in the practice room.

Temptation bundling is appealing because we tie something pleasurable with the work that needs to be done. (I talked about this somewhat is the blog post about how I motivate myself “Motivation: A Student’s Perspective.”) Some examples of temptation bundling in the practice room are

  1. Giving yourself a small reward for reaching a practice goal. This could be something small like eating a piece of chocolate or playing a few minutes of your favorite electronic game.

    temptation bundling

    massage balls

  2. Keep your instrument and music next to you while watching TV. When a commercial comes on, mute the TV and practice until the commercials are over. This works equally well for adults and kids. For every hour of broadcast TV, there are about 15 minutes of commercials!
  3. While practicing, roll massage balls under your feet. I like to do this while I’m practicing long tones.

“Commitment devices” are a cousin of temptation bundles. When we use commitment devices, we are setting up things that help us practice. Unlike temptation bundling, the linked activity does not have to be pleasant. Stephen Dubner and co-author Steven Levitt define commitment devices as “a means with which to lock yourself into a course of action that you might not otherwise choose but that produces a desired result.” These can be useful sometimes, but we have to be careful not to over-use the unpleasant ones. Some examples of commitment devices in the practice room:

  1. Scheduling practice time in your daily calendar. Add an alarm to help you remember.
  2. Set a timer and don’t let yourself get up from the chair until the timer goes off.
  3. Tell someone about your practice goal(s) and ask them to keep you accountable. To make the commitment even stronger, you can create a punishment if you don’t reach your goal. I read about a man who told all his friends he was going to quit smoking. If he failed, he would give a large sum of money to “a horrible little communist organization.” He hasn’t touched a cigarette since.


Ultimately, our practicing needs to be internally motivated. We play because we love music. It moves us. It makes us better human beings.

But sometimes I’m not feeling very spiritual about my practicing. There are bad days when practicing feels like the last thing I want to do. However, musicians know that we must practice regularly to keep our muscles strong and our skills sharp. For those days when we don’t feel like practicing, “temptation bundling” and “commitment devices” might be the only way I am able to drag myself into the practice room. Those massage balls are sounding particularly nice right now…

MusicParentsGuide.Com by Mazzocchi

The Music Parents’ Guide Blog, written by Anthony (Tony) Mazzocchi, is an excellent resource.

Check out for interesting articles about how important music education is in the life and learning of children. Blogger Tony Mazzocchi writes about how parents can support the musical lives of their children. His posts are easy to read and counting helpful advice and encouragement.

The companion book, The Music Parent’s Guide: A Survival Guide for the New Music Parent, is due out in print soon.

A particularly helpful blog post to followers of my blog (with a focus on practice tip and tricks) is How To Create the Perfect Practice Session.


cartoon of Marlene and her guitar



Essential For Being Human

Music is essential for being human.

Scientists are learning a lot about how music effects the brain, how it changes our cognition (see blog posts Better Brains and Brain Imaging). But that’s not the whole story. There’s something much deeper going on with music. It is central to every culture across the world and across history. Music is enjoyed by people of all classes, gender, and age. Those who do not play an instrument still love listening to music.

Leonid Perlovsky, visiting scholar at Harvard University, writes

Billions of people enjoy music; many feel that they can’t live without it.


It’s a question that has puzzled scientists and philosophers for centuries. 2,400 years ago Aristotle wondered, “Why does music, being just sounds, remind us of the states of our soul?”

In the 19th century Darwin tried to decipher if our ability to create music evolved by natural selection. Of all human faculties, only music seemed beyond understanding; flummoxed, he came to the conclusion that “music is the greatest mystery.”

Perlovsky has conducted research on the “greatest mystery” and believes the answer is that music helps us resolve cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is psychologist-speak for the emotional discomfort caused by believing two things, despite understanding that they cannot be true at the same time. The classic example is a lawyer who must enter a “not-guilty” plea for a defendant, even though the lawyer knows the person committed the crime. Cognitive dissonance effects us on a deeply emotional level and if not resolved, it can be paralyzing.

Read the whole article here: How Music Helps Resolve Our Deepest Inner Conflicts ( the piano

Tom Barnes writes about Perlovsky’s research in this article:

Science May Finally Have Found Out Why Music Is So Important to Humans  (

Barnes cites research that implies music has played an essential role in human evolution, especially in the following areas

  • Resolving cognitive dissonance (Perlovsky’s conclusion)
  • Modulating mood
  • Reducing anxiety and stress
  • Promoting social cohesion
  • Developing language
  • Physical healing

I’ve often wondered why so many songs are about love and heartbreak. Revisiting a painful breakup through music somehow feels good, but that doesn’t make any logical sense. I don’t enjoy thinking about the time I suffered from shingles. That was painful too, but I’m not going to write a song about it. The difference, of course, is that love is emotional. Love and heartbreak are two sides of the same coin, as are life and death. At the center of our existential angst is the knowledge that we have to embrace the duality of being human.

Music makes it easier to get out of bed and face the world every day.

Practice Better, Enjoy Life More

Practice Better, Enjoy Life More: Quality is more important than quantity in practice.

practicing the bass


Feeling stressed-out and under-accomplished? Perhaps you need to reconsider how you’re doing the work that needs to be done. Research shows that spending concentrated time on a single task has two benefits: the work is done better and you have more time for leisure.

Check out the article “If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers”

Scientists studied the habits of the highest performing musicians to discover the secret to their success. In the two groups of musicians, the “elite” players and the “average” players, researchers found that the amount of time spent practicing wasn’t important.

The difference was in how they spent this time. The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability.

How do we practice efficiently? Staying mentally focused and listening deeply (Hearing vs. Listening) are good places to begin. Consider using different practice strategies for “woodshedding” the hard parts. Blog entries with ideas include

Cal Newport in “If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong” ends his post with these sage words:

This analysis leads to an important conclusion. Whether you’re a student or well along in your career, if your goal is to build a remarkable life, then busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy. If you’re chronically stressed and up late working, you’re doing something wrong…You’ve built a life around hard to do work, not hard work.

The solution suggested by this research, as well as my own, is as simple as it is startling: Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.

For another article about different research with some of the same conclusions, please visit my blog post Research On Effective Practice Skills.

Research on Effective Practice Skills

I love to read about the intersection of science, music, and psychology.

I encourage all musicians to read this article reviewing research on effective practice skills by Robert Duke at the University of Texas:

The researchers discovered that it doesn’t matter how long a musician practices something. It doesn’t even matter how many times something difficult is practiced. What does make a difference is how few times the musician makes a mistake. It’s not how many times a section is played right, its the high ratio of right to wrong.

I encourage you to read the article because it lays out the findings of the research much more eloquently than I can here.

My takeaway: The researchers found that the best musicians identified where the problems were and isolated them to figure out a solution. The pianists in this study practiced right notes more often than wrong ones and they slowed down for the hard parts. These practice skills are what teachers have been emphasizing all along. But sometimes we have to hear it in a new way before it really sinks in.

flute drawing

practice skills

Practice Builds Better Brains

Music instruction is better for children’s brains than “sports, theater or dance.” 

Save the link to this article and read again after a big fight with your kid about practicing. Or forward it to your spouse who wonders if all this money for lessons and instruments is worth it. Or if you are an adult whose parents made you practice an instrument, pick up the phone right now and say “Thank you!”

Hey, you’re a busy parent, so in case you don’t have time to read the article today, let me summarize it for you. A 2013 research study on kids who take music lessons found that these kids

“have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.”

Specifically, the study found that musical kids have significantly better brains. They outperform their peers in

  • reading and verbal skills
  • math skills
  • spatial reasoning skills
  • grades and IQs
  • ability to learn languages
  • motor coordination
  • memory
  • self-confidence and self-esteem
  • creativity

If you are the parent of a musician, don’t expect your kid to be oozing with gratitude today.

My kids will probably roll their eyes when I ask them to practice this evening. There might even be some pitiful sighs. But that’s OK because today I’m feeling good about being a meanie.

My teacher Alexa Still brought this to my attention. Thanks, Alexa, for helping my brain grow…in many ways!

photo of the author

Marlene Hartzler