Category Archives: Memory

Mental muscle: six ways to boost your brain

Many will not find it surprising that the word “music” appears 23 times in this New Scientist article.

I found this paragraph especially interesting:

“Musically trained people perform better on tests of auditory memory – the ability to remember lists of spoken words, for example – and auditory attention. Children with a musical training have larger vocabularies and higher reading ability than those who do not (Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol 11, p 599). There is even some evidence that early musical training increases IQ (Psychological Science, vol 15, p 511).”

Just as I thought….

For years I have encouraged beginners occasionally to recite the names of notes aloud while playing. My feeling was this practice, annoying as it seems to be for them, encourages them to decide more quickly what they are going to play, resulting in their being able to keep up with the group. At any rate, the playing and reading both seem to improve from this practice.
I was heartened to read in an article entitled The Voice of Reason, in this week’s New Scientist, that there may be another reason for this – that naming improves categorisation, memorisation and, as a result, future recognition.
Many people would argue that they’d prefer to name the notes silently to themselves. The trouble is that they don’t notice when it stops – and neither does anyone else e.g. their teacher.
At the moment, the article, is not online but hopefully it will be at some point. One other estimated statistic is that “out loud” conversation accounts for only 30% of the verbal activity in our brain – this is self-generated verbal activity and does not refer to reading nor, as far as I understand, writing – just thinking and talking to ourselves.

Top Of The Pops for Haiti

Last night I attended an astonishing event in Haddington’s Corn Exchange organised by Mike Cullen and a host of talented and generous friends  in aid of the victims of Haiti’s earthquake. I’m sure Mike won’t mind my mentioning here that the amount raised is already over £5,000 and rising. Perhaps Mike could let us know the final figure and the names of all those involved in putting on such an excellent night.

The Corn Exchange was transformed into a TOTP studio:


The quality of the bands was outstanding – including State Freed, featuring some Knox lads:


The audience were invited to dress up and many really pushed the boat out. I was keen to do my bit with this barely noticeable tweak to standard school dress code:


All 500 tickets were sold and the atmosphere was fantastic. I found this quite a moving event – not least because I had the chance to catch up with some old friends – including school friends. The dynamic between music, geography and emotion is a strange one. I lived in Haddington until I moved away to study in 1979 – quite a while ago. Yet last night, I’d never felt more part of, nor proud of, the place.

Well done to everyone involved!

The brain that changes itself

Since hearing her highly resonant talk at the 2007 Scottish Learning Festival, I’ve been a great admirer of Carol Craig and of the work at the Centre for Confidence and Well-being. I’ve never actually set foot in the centre but the forthcoming visit of Dr. Norman Doidge on Tuesday 15th September should change that. He is to give a multi-media presentation on the theme of his recent book, The Brain That Changes Itself.

A Rude Awakening

Wednesday’s edition of All In The Mind featured a study on the effect of rudeness (in the workplace) on creativity and productivity. The study by Amir Erez of the University of Florida and Christine Porath of the University of Southern California, discovered that even witnessing rudeness can affect cognitive performance, memory and incliantion to help out.

This discovery is at odds with our culture of humiliation as seen in Britain’s Got Talent; X Factor; The Weakest Link; Dragons’ Den; The Apprentice. The first two of these are extremely popular with pupils and, before hearing of this study, I often used to wonder what message was being conveyed when the response to ambition was often mere cruelty.

Listen again here, or else! The article is the second of three in the programme.

Memory Lame?

Listening to the latest edition of Leading Edge on the topic of the unreliability of memory, I was prompted to wonder how accurate my own memory is and some of the assumptions which rest upon these memories.

Specifically, I don’t recall being frequently tired as a teenager. Looking into a sea of pale, tired, distracted faces at yesterday’s East Lothian Guitar Ensemble rehearsal, I found myself wondering if, in my high expectations, I have conveniently forgotten exactly what feels like to be that age. In the end, a productive and encouraging rehearsal emerged from an underwhelming beginning. However, early in the rehearsal, I found myself wondering if we are going about this in the right way. Is Friday* afternoon the best time for a 2-hour rehearsal sandwiched by 30-minute bus journeys?

The edition of Leading Edge can be heard here until Thu 26th at 21.30 – scroll forward to 9:00 for memory articles featuring Karl Sabbagh, Martin Conway and a consideration of the effect of high blood sugar and memory, along with links between memory and attention.

* many instructors are not employed on a Friday

Read Faster, Read Smarter

I decided to spend the last day of this week off attending a CPD event laid on by ELC. Delivered by Park Sims Associates, the course was entitled Read Faster, Read Smarter and its stated aim was to help “all who want to get through their reading at work faster and smarter.”

I was hoping that there would be some straightforward ocular content as this would surely be transferable (to some degree) to the reading of music. I was not disappointed in this respect and hope to share that (and this) with colleagues at Monday’s In Service.

I’ve no wish here merely to post online the content of a course honed over years by fellow professionals, so let it suffice to say that it was as good an example of active learning as I’ve seen. Many of the tasks had been cleverly designed to highlight a particular point by stealth, so that the habits of a lifetime, which often conspire to impede us, might be circumvented.

Well presented handouts were abundant, allowing us to concentrate on the task at hand which, I think the 16 delegates would agree, was at times very challenging. However, no-one in their right mind, would expect a physical skill to fall into place in a matter of hours. Like most skills, speed reading consists of a variety of strategies and an intuitive application of the appropriate one comes only with experience.

I look forward to developing what I learned today and, hopefully, to exploring further the parallels with written music. Having had some intensive concentration on visual intake, I feel now may be the time to seek out a book written by one of the presenters of Tune-In: Music with the Brain in Mind – “The Eye: A Natural History” by Simon Ings.


Occam All Ye Faithful

Imagine you chanced upon the last vestige of a rousing, local, pub-based community carol singing tradition and then found yourself wondering why it has all but died out. Which culprits would first spring to mind? Materialism? Television? The assertion that “there is no such thing as society?” Contemporary “broken Britain?” The real answer (contained in the link below) may surprise you.

Also surprising is the asymmetric scansion of some of the tunes e.g. 00:55 – 1:05 on this link (scroll down to the article at 0820). It would be easy, invoking Occam’s Razor, to imagine that melodies would be sculpted into their most graspable form by generations of oral tradition.