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Lesson plan: Playing Musical Instruments

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How playing an instrument benefits your brain (4:45 min.)

In the video “How playing an instrument benefits your brain” Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.

Before you listen
Study the following glossary before you watch the video (click on the word GLOSSARY):

GLOSSARY
  • FMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) is a functional neuroimaging procedure that measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow. When an area of the brain is in use, blood flow to that region also increases.
    PET (Positron emission tomography) is a nuclear medicine, functional imaging technique that is used to observe metabolic processes in the body. It is both a medical and research tool and can help to map normal human brain function.
    The motor cortex is the region of the brain involved in the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements. The auditory cortex is the part of the brain that processes auditory information. It is included in the auditory system, performing basic and higher functions in hearing. The visual cortex of the brain plays an important role in processing visual information.
    A motor skill is a function, which involves the precise movement of muscles with the intent to perform a specific act.
    • The brain is devided into symmetrical left and right hemispheres linked by the corpus callosum which transfers information between them to coordinate different functions. The left hemisphere is responsible for controlling the right side of the body, and performs tasks that have to do with logic, such as in science and mathematics. The right hemisphere coordinates the left side of the body, and performs tasks that have do with creativity and the arts.
    A randomized study is a study that randomly assigns participants into an experimental group or a control group; neither the researchers nor the participants can choose which group. Using chance to assign people to groups means that the groups will be similar and that the interventions received can be compared objectively.
    Cognitive function is an intellectual process by which one becomes aware of, perceives, or comprehends ideas. It involves all aspects of perception, thinking, reasoning, and remembering.
Do you play a musical instrument? What instrument do you play? Do you think it has influenced your brain in any way?

Watch the video
Now watch the video and answer the following questions:
1. What happens in our brain when we listen to music? Why did neuroscientists get excited about watching the brain functions of musicians?
2. What different areas of the brain does learning a musical instrument engage at the same time and why?
3. What brain functions are strengthened by disciplined, structured practice in playing music?
4. In what areas do musicians excel and why? Why is their memory compared to an Internet search engine?
5. What has been found out in several randomaized studies?

Over to you
Discuss in pairs:
Has the video inspired you to play a musical instrument or to learn to play one? Why? What other benefits can music and playing a musical instrument bring?

Language Exercise A
Fill in the gaps with suitable prepositions and adverbs and translate them from English into Russian:
1. Did you know that every time musicians pick ______ their instruments there are fireworks going ______ all ______ their brain?
2. ______ the outside they make look calm and focussed reading the music and making the precise and practised movements required, but inside their brains, there’s a party going ______.
3. ______ the last few decades neuroscientists have made enormous breakthroughs ______understanding how our brains work ______ monitoring them ______ real time ______ instruments like FMRI and PET scanners.
4. When people are hooked ______ ______these machines, tasks such as reading or doing math problems, each have corresponding areas ______the brain where activity can be observed.
5. Multiple areas ______their brains were lighting ______ ______once as they processed the sound, took it ______to understand elements like melody and rhythm and then put it all ______ together ______ unified musical experience.
6. And our brains do all this work ______ a split second ______ when we first hear the music and when our foot starts to tap ______.
7. It turns ______ that while listening ______ music engages the brain ______ some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain’s equivalent ______ a full body workout.
8. It also combines the linguistic and mathematical precision ______ which the left hemisphere is more involved ______ the novel and creative content that the right excels ______.
9. ______ these reasons playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity ______ the brain’s corpus callosum – the bridge ______ the two hemispheres– allowing messages to get ______ the brain faster and ______ more diverse routes.
10. So how do we know all those benefits are unique ______ music as opposed ______ say, sports or painting? Or could it be that the people who go ______music are already smarter to begin ______?

Language Exercise B
Give the English equivalents for the following phrasal verbs found in the sentences above. Make up your own sentences with them:
разбирать на части, анализировать / отбивать ритм, слушая музыку / проходить, иметь место / загораться, зажигаться, активизироваться / быть подключенным к чему-то / взять, поднять / доходить до понимания / взрываться, выстреливать / заняться чем-то / соединять, собирать

Language Exercise C
Complex Subject:

Study the following example of Complex Subject used in the video and translate the sentence from English into Russian:

  • But when researchers got the participants to listen to music, they saw fireworks.

Open the brackets and complete the sentences with the Infinitive, the Gerund or Participle (I, II). Translate the sentences from English into Russian:
1. On his third step, he spied something that made him (to stop) short.
2. I found him (to lean) on his right hand, (to talk) intently to an older man, probably in his late forties, who was wearing a three-piece suit.
3. The day I found her (to cry) alone in the cafeteria was the day her grandmother had forced her (to chop off) her dirty dreadlocks and (to wear) a dress, and Lily was not happy about it.
4. Every time a concert hall was bombed he had it (to rebuild) immediately as a matter of top priority.
5. I watched her mouth (to drop) open when she saw him (to stand) there.
6. He half expected her (to wander) into one of his parties, some night but she never did.
7. The days of sleep had left him (to disorient) and yet his mind felt oddly lucid.
8. They strolled across and found Bree (to lie) with his face towards the wall, and though he must have heard them (to come), he never turned his head or spoke a word.
9. The empty museum frightened her, although she was not about to let her grandfather (to know) that.
10. Miss Ellen never talked so short to nobody, not even when she caught them (to steal) watermelons.

 

Click on the word KEYS to see the answers:

KEYS
Language Exercise A
1. Did you know that every time musicians pick up their instruments there are fireworks going off all over their brain?
2. On the outside they make look calm and focussed reading the music and making the precise and practised movements required, but inside their brains, there’s a party going on.
3. Well, in the last few decades neuroscientists have made enormous breakthroughs in understanding how our brains work by monitoring them in real time with instruments like FMRI and PET scanners.
4. When people are hooked up to these machines, tasks such as reading or doing math problems, each have corresponding areas of the brain where activity can be observed.
5. Multiple areas of their brains were lighting up at once as they processed the sound, took it apart to understand elements like melody and rhythm and then put it all back together into unified musical experience.
6. And our brains do all this work in a split second between when we first hear the music and when our foot starts to tap along.
7. It turns out that while listening to music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full body workout.
8. It also combines the linguistic and mathematical precision in which the left hemisphere is more involved with the novel and creative content that the right excels in.
9. For these reasons playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum –the bridge between the two hemispheres– allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes.
10. So how do we know all those benefits are unique to music as opposed to say, sports or painting? Or could it be that the people who go into music are already smarter to begin with?

Language Exercise B
взять, поднять – to pick up (an instrument)
взрываться, выстреливать – to go off (about fireworks)
проходить, иметь место – to go on (about a party)
подключить кого-то к чему-то, быть подключенным к чему-то – to hook up somebody to something, to be hooked up to something
загораться, зажигаться, активизироваться – to light up (about areas of the brain)
разбирать на части, анализировать – to take apart (about sounds)
соединять, собирать – to put together (about sounds)
отбивать ритм, слушая музыку – to tap along
доходить до понимания — to get across (about a message)
заняться чем-то – to go into (music)

Language Exercise C

  1. On his third step, he spied something that made him stop short. — Сделал шага дни и вдруг застыл как вкопанный.
    2. I found him leaning on his right hand, talking intently to an older man, probably in his late forties, who was wearing a very dapper three-piece suit. — Опершись на правую руку, он настойчиво говорил что-то пожилому мужчине, одетому в элегантный костюм-тройку.
    3. The day I found her crying alone in the cafeteria was the day her grandmother had forced her to chop off her dirty dreadlocks and wear a dress, and Lily was not happy about it. — В тот день, когда я увидела Лили плачущей за столиком в кафе, бабушка заставила ее отрезать грязные спутанные космы и надеть платье.
    4. Every time a concert hall was bombed, I heard somewhere, he had it rebuilt immediately as a matter of top priority. — Каждый раз, как Концертный зал подвергался бомбежке, он его заново отстраивал, как объект первостепенного назначения.
    5. I watched her mouth drop open when she saw him standing there. — Внезапно она заметила нашего гостя, и у нее отвисла челюсть.
    6. “I think he half expected her to wander into one of his parties, some night,» went on Jordan, «but she never did.” — По-моему, он все ждал, что в один прекрасный вечер она вдруг появится у него в гостиной, ― продолжала Джордан.
    7. The days of sleep had left him disoriented… and yet his mind felt oddly lucid. — Отсыпаясь, он совершенно потерял счет времени… однако мысль работала на удивление ясно и четко.
    8. They strolled across and found Bree lying with his face towards the wall, and though he must have heard them coming, he never turned his head or spoke a word.
    9. The empty museum frightened her, although she was not about to let her grandfather know that. — Пустой музей ― они разгуливали по нему уже после закрытия ― пугал ее, но она старалась не подавать виду.
    10. Miss Ellen never talked so short to nobody, not even when she caught them stealing watermelons. — Мисс Эллин никогда не разговаривала так ни с кем из слуг, даже если заставала их на месте преступления — с украденной дыней.

 

Click on the word TRANSCRIPT to see the text of the video:

TRANSCRIPT

Did you know that every time musicians pick up their instruments there are fireworks going off all over their brain?

On the outside they make look calm and focussed reading the music and making the precise and practised movements required, but inside their brains, there’s a party going on.

How do we know this? Well, in the last few decades neuroscientists have made enormous breakthroughs in understanding how our brains work by monitoring them in real time with instruments like FMRI and PET scanners. When people are hooked up to these machines, tasks such as reading or doing math problems, each have corresponding areas of the brain where activity can be observed. But when researchers got the participants to listen to music, they saw fireworks. Multiple areas of their brains were lighting up at once as they processed the sound, took it apart to understand elements like melody and rhythm and then put it all back together into unified musical experience. And our brains do all this work in a split second between when we first hear the music and when our foot starts to tap along.

But when scientists turned from observing the brains of music listeners to those of musicians, the little backyard fireworks became a jubilee. It turns out that while listening to music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full body workout. The neuroscientists say multiple areas of the brain light up, simultaneously processing different information in intricate, inter-related and astonishingly fast sequences.

But what is it about making music that sets the brain alight? The research is still fairly new, but neuroscientists have a pretty good idea. Playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory and motor cortices. And as with any other workout, disciplined, structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions allowing us to apply that strength to other activities.

The most obvious difference between listening to music and playing it is that the latter requires fine motor skills which are controlled in both hemispheres of the brain. It also combines the linguistic and mathematical precision in which the left hemisphere is more involved with the novel and creative content that the right excels in. For these reasons playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum –the bridge between the two hemispheres– allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. This may allow musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively in both academic and social settings. Because making music also involves crafting and understanding its emotional content and message, musicians often have higher levels of executive functions – a category of interlinked tasks that includes planning, strategizing, and attention to detail, and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects.

This ability also has an impact on how our memory systems work. And indeed, musicians exhibit enhanced memory functionscreating, storing, and retrieving memories more quickly and efficiently. Studies have found that musicians appear to use their highly connected brains to give each memory multiple tags such as a conceptual tag, an emotional tag, an audio tag, and a contextual tag, like a good internet search engine.

So how do we know all those benefits are unique to music as opposed to say, sports or painting? Or could it be that the people who go into music are already smarter to begin with? Neuroscientists have explored these issues but so far they’ve found that the artistic and aesthetic aspects of learning to play a musical instrument are different from any other activity studied, including other arts. And several randomized study of participants who showed the same level of cognitive function and neural processing at the same start found that those who were exposed to a period of music learning showed an enhancement in multiple brain areas compared to the others.

This recent research about the mental benefits of playing music has advanced our understanding of mental function revealing the inner rhythms and complex interplay that make up the amazing orchestra of our brain.

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