Learning to play an instrument is an excellent and enjoyable way to pass the time. But not only does it give you knowledge in the music field; it can also build up your language and math skills, sharpen your motor function, strengthen your brain in a variety of ways, and possibly lead you on a career path in technological innovations.

Languages:

Music is certainly a language in itself, and Italian is often referred to as the language of music. At the center of the Renaissance, Italy was home to the creation of many musical masterpieces in addition to some of the earliest sheet music notation and the majority of music lingo. These notation methods and terms can still found scattered across sheet music of all levels, and are used in both educational and professional music settings. Within your first year of learning most orchestral/band instruments, you will have built up a beginner vocabulary of Italian music terms, many of which are commonly used in regular Italian speech. You will also be able to identify root words in Latin, and those in the Latin-based languages – great for the SATs and every day reading and writing.

If you’d like to have a tool at the ready that will help you recognize these phrases, take a look at some of our music word glossaries. Any of these will come in handy the next time you spot a word or expression you don’t understand.

There are also words in other languages that accompany different world instruments including traditional and international songs, dances, jigs, polkas, marches, chants, and more. These span from French to German, Hawaiian, Spanish, Gaeilge/Gaelic, Hindi, Japanese, and on – in pretty much any language you can think of!

Auditory Benefits:

Ever heard of someone having perfect pitch? That means they can name any note they hear without a reference note because their ear is sensitive enough to distinguish the finest of discrepancies. Though this is a rare gift, a broader scope of musicians are able to develop relative pitch. Those with relative pitch can hear if a note is sharp/flat and figure out how to play tunes they hear without looking at sheet music. The popular Suzuki teaching method is designed so that students do not attempt to sight read sheet music until they can successfully play by ear.

Motor Function:

Between the thinking and the physical aspects of moving, breathing, listening, and watching, playing an instrument strengthens your motor skills and overall hand-eye coordination. Improved concentration, reflexes, and discipline, in addition to teamwork, can all be found in a music practice or performance setting. You are more often than not required to use both hands in playing an instrument which supports brain development in both hemispheres and promotes ambidexterity.

Music has such beneficial effects on motor function that it’s used in therapy sessions for children and adults with autism, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases. Similarly, melodic intonation-based speech therapy has been used to stimulate verbal response and improve verbal skills in patients recovering from strokes (Vines et al., 2011).

Overall Brain Patterns:

The brain is known to develop and restructure itself differently in people based off their unique experiences and activities. When comparing brain scans of musicians and non-musicians, the results are stunning. In one particular study, the brain scans of musicians showed a decrease in the brain’s aging process compared to those uninvolved in music (Rogenmoser et al., 2017).

Playing and listening to music changes brain chemistry (“Tuning in: How Music May Affect Your Heart,” 2009) and increases connectivity between regions of the brain (Sachs et al., 2016), resulting in stronger neural pathways and thus quicker brain responses.

Math:

Math comes across as a scary challenge to many people, but the math in music is intertwined so naturally into the art that many music students don’t even realize they’re learning math alongside their instrument until someone points it out to them.

In order to read sheet music, one has to identify the time signature. This is always found in the form of a fraction that tells you the number of beats per measure and how to identify note values. Each note and rest is symbolized differently depending upon how many beats it’s worth and all of these are worth numeric values in terms of fractions like whole, half, eight, sixteenth, thirty-second, and (on occasion) sixty-fourth. How a conductor moves their baton is also largely dependent upon the time signature.

The tempo tells the conductor and musicians how fast or slow the music will be based off the number of beats per second. If you’ve ever heard a dance class count out loud “5, 6, 7, 8…” before they start, you’ll hear something similar in a music classroom, “1 and, 2 and, 3 e and a, 4….” Counting these beats out loud helps each player to understand the tempo and rhythm. For those who need assistance with tempo, they can set a metronome to any speed they need and go from there. Once a player feels the down beat, this concept comes instinctively.

Composers use these constructs to figure out the best time signature their music can be written in, to fit in the correct note values into each measure, and to tell others the speed they want their compositions to be played in.

Subtle mathematical features include the famous Fibonacci sequence (where you add the last two numbers in the sequence to get the next number: 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on). Found numerically in chords, it can be seen visually in the form of a spiral created from squares sized proportionally to the sequence. Frequently found in nature, this pattern can be seen in the bass clef symbol and in the measurements of Stradivarius violins (Rizzi, 2018).

More prominent mathematical features in music include tuning keys, strings, drums, glass bottles, etc. to specific frequencies – which brings us into the world of physics….

Physics and Technology:

Math and science go hand and hand, and music is all over the physics realm. Every single note has its own unique frequency that can be measured from its signature sound wave. The frequency is normally measured in Hertz (Hz) and is a rate describing how many full wave cycles are completed (vibrate) per second. Middle C on a piano/keyboard for instance has a frequency of 261.63 Hz. – that’s 261.63 times each second! Pretty fast!

When using a tuner, you’ll often find the frequency on the physical display which tells the tuner (and you) if you’re on the correct note or not, and whether the note is sharp or flat. If you’re doing things the old-fashioned way, you can see the visual difference in the size of tuning forks for different notes, which is necessary to create each unique pitch.

This also comes into play in music technology. Companies including Mack’s, Hearos, and Westone, who develop ear plugs, sound-proof pads, and other sound isolation products for practice and studio recording rooms, require the knowledge of the physical properties of sound waves and materials to design their products. This includes the reflective properties and refractive index angles of numerous materials (dealing with the angle at which waves bend through certain materials). Auralex is a company that produces many of these products to not only buffer sound, but also to prevent it from leaking through the walls, ceiling, and floor. Some of their sound pads are designed specifically to concentrate the sound around a certain direction, or toward a microphone.

When selecting a microphone, headphones, speaker, amplifier, or wireless system, it’s helpful to be aware of its frequency response and frequency range. This will help you select the best kind for your individual needs.

And it doesn’t stop there. The physics behind music has been, and still is currently being applied to other fields…

Health:

In many cases of depression, listening to calming or upbeat music can have plentiful positive effects and relieves anxiety and tension. It in turn can also lower blood pressure for those with high blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic openly encourages patients to listen to music before and after surgery (“Using Music to Tune the Heart”, 2009).

While it may not be a secret that music relieves stress, it’s not well known that it can also ease suffering of other kinds. For those plagued with tinnitus, the noise is not necessarily coming from your ears, but rather your brain. Since the brain maps itself based off of experiences and what a person senses, it’s an ever-changing organ. Scientists are working on a way to use the brain’s plasticity in stopping constant ringing in the ears – if the brain mapped itself to fire off unnecessary and irritating sound signals, it should be able to remap itself to stop.

In order to apply this concept, a brain scan is done of a tinnitus patient to find the frequency of the noise they hear. Then, they are given filtered music to listen to (with that particular frequency deleted from the music track). In one study, after repeatedly listening to the filtered music for an average of 12.4 hours a week, and a span of 6-12 months, giving enough time for the brain to remap its connective pathways, patients reported their tinnitus was significantly less severe (not as loud as previously) and scans showed decreased “auditory cortex induced activity” (the brain wasn’t firing unnecessary sound signals as often as before) (Okamoto et al., 2010).

After news of these studies spread, medical and music technology companies jumped on board. One medical technology company, Sonormed, has applied this science to develop Tinnimatch, an iPad app that allows physicians and hearing specialists to determine frequencies of tinnitus in patients. They’ve also created Tinnitracks, a downloadable computer/phone app for patients who have had their tinnitus frequency measured. A patient can select music files they like, and the app will filter their tinnitus frequency out of the tracks, making therapy accessible and simple. Sonormed also partners with Sennheiser, an audio technology company that makes headphones, microphones, and wireless systems, to offer headphones with low distortion that improve the listener’s therapeutic experience.

In researching recovery methods for those with arrhythmic heart problems, scientists are recording the heartbeats of patients with different kinds of arrhythmia and turning them into music. By analyzing these recurring patterns, doctors hope to make it easier to identify what stage of arrhythmia a person is in, and therefore make it easier to figure out treatment options (Matchar, 2017).

Safety and Natural Disasters:

If you’re looking to become a meteorologist, or simply want to know this week’s forecast, you’ve probably heard of Doppler radar. The Doppler effect is a natural occurrence where a change in pitch ensues when an object moves toward or away from a stationary observer. You can hear this effect when an ambulance passes you by on the road. Though the siren’s really at a constant pitch, it appears to you that the pitch is higher while it’s approaching and lower once it gets past you. Meteorologists use Doppler radar readings from several fixed locations to track air mass movement and to predict the weekly weather. This sound-motion duo effect is especially important in tracking severe storm paths. Likewise, the Doppler effect is also applied to astronomy and celestial objects (but in those cases the frequencies are taken from waves of light).

One method in the making that could potentially dissipate or stop a tsunami in the future, originally developed by Dr. Usama Kadri of Cardiff University, is to shoot it with acoustic-gravity waves. First, one would need to quickly locate the epicenter of the earthquake that caused the tsunami. This is done by analyzing readings of the p-wave and s-wave produced from the earthquake, the first of which is a compression wave that moves through rock and liquids exactly like a sound wave. Then, they’d have to track and map the tsunami’s course. Once found, a “resonant triad” of acoustic-gravity waves (three waves) can be sent out in its direction to meet it with a mitigating opposition force (Kadri, 2017). (Non-coincidentally, there are resonant triads in music chords!) This idea works off of the known basis that you can use a wave to weaken or cancel out another wave by reducing the wave’s height/speed or creating a standing/stationary wave.

Though technology to fully accomplish this has not yet been built, engineers are working on and testing out designs using related concepts that are capable of dispersing a tsunami’s energy. It may not be too long before they can save countless lives.

Animals and insects have their own instinctive earthquake detection systems. Most likely due to their hearing and sensitivity outside of the human range, birds, centipedes, snakes, horses, fish, and other creatures always act very differently weeks to hours before a major earthquake (“Animals and Earthquake Prediction”, 2019). The USGS (United States Geological Survey) and other organizations have analyzed compiled data showing direct correlations between animal/insect behavior and earthquakes. They theorize these creatures may be able to detect seismic waves from foreshocks quicker than our current seismic stations. A few years ago, the buffalo of Wyoming stampeded their way into the papers by fleeing Yellowstone National Park, spiking major concern of another impending quake just a month after a magnitude 4.8 hit the area (though they could have been sensing aftershocks as well). But that’s not the only effect of motion and sound waves on living beings…

Plants and Animals:

Wouldn’t it be great for farmers, horticulturalists, and all plant owners, if they could positively stimulate the growth of their plants? Dr. T. C. N. Singh (former Botany Department head at India’s Annamalia University) and numerous others have performed experiments on a wide variety of plant species to measure differences in plant growth between control plants (exposed to no sound) and plants exposed to various kinds of musical instruments and recordings. Not only did results from many of these experiments yield noteworthy differences in height, size of leaves/flowers/fruit, growth rate, and overall health, but they also showed differences in growth direction. In one particular experiment, the plant exposed to Indian classical music grew significantly taller than the plant exposed to silence, and grew toward the music source like it normally would toward light (Chivukula and Ramaswam, 2014).

If you visit the world-famous wine estate DeMorgenzon in South Africa, you’ll hear Baroque and early classical music being played to the grape vines through speakers mounted in the vineyard (Appelbaum, 2017). Winners of international wine awards, the owners believe their vines respond positively to the music – and they have great wine to show for it!

Animals like bats take advantage of sound waves by using echolocation (their instinctive sonar) to find and catch insects. Bats make sounds to echo and hit objects around them. The sound bounces off an object and reflects back to the bat to let them know where and how close the object is. Miraculously, a few blind children, teens, and adults have been able to use clicking noises to do the same thing.

Marine mammals like dolphins and whales with teeth also use echolocation, creating high-pitched clicks and whistles to map their surroundings and communicate with each other. Baleen whales do this as well, but instead call out with lower-pitched sounds, likely due to their larger size. These songs can often be heard hundreds of miles away, with each species having their own unique frequency ranges and patterns. Marine biologists and oceanographers record and study these songs to try and decode their messages. They also believe certain sounds may be used to disorient prey (“Whales, Dolphins, and Sound”, 2019.)

And while our topic is taking a dive into the ocean, we can’t forget about naval sonar – an acronym for sound navigation and ranging, (basically artificial echolocation). Sonar is used in naval navigation to locate and track ships, submarines, and other vessels, and by marine biologists to track migratory patterns of marine creatures.

Miscellaneous Motion:

Almost straight out of a sci-fi movie, acoustic levitation is already lifting small objects. Using transducers and their knowledge of wave properties (amplitude, nodes, etc.), scientists have found a way to lift small particles and items by creating standing sound waves and trapping objects in them. Once perfected to lift larger and heavier matter, this technology can be used to analyze and manipulate materials that are too hot for human hands to touch (Zyga, 2016).

Sound doesn’t just vibrate; it also creates art. In the late 1700s, Ernest Chladni found that when he spread sand over a metal plate and “bowed” the plate, it produced well defined geometric patterns, now called Chladni figures (“Chladni Plates”, Smithsonian). When you can control the frequency at which the plate vibrates, you’ll see that the patterns change with the changing frequency.

All matter would cease to exist if it wasn’t vibrating and creating a frequency (though you can’t always hear it – and thankfully so, or else there’d never be a moment of silence). Everything, including each atom in your body, responds to certain frequencies depending upon its elemental makeup and molecular structure. This is why some powerful singers can crack a glass by singing a certain note and creating resonance (another splendid music term) with the glass.

The Possibilities are Endless:

The benefits of music truly branch out into an entire world of opportunity. These are just a few of the many examples in which music and sound benefit people and apply to various fields. New breakthroughs are being made every day. Ride the sound wave! Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next one to patent the newest music-related innovation!

If you’re interested in starting your musical journey, brushing up on your skills after a break, or looking to fine tune your performance and take things to the next level, sign up today at Sam Ash Learning Centers for private lessons with one of our highly-trained professional teachers.

 

Work Cited

”Animals and Earthquake Prediction.” USGS, 2019, earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/animal_eqs.php.

Appelbaum, Hylton and Wendy. “The Music.” DeMorgenzon, 2017, demorgenzon.com/music.

Chivukula, Vidya and Ramaswam, Shivaraman. “Effects of Different Types of Music on Rosa Chinesis Plants.” International Journal of Environmental Science and Development, Volume 5, No. 5, October 2014, pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f3ef/50e5de86c302c09e2d1b11f0d3295143182b.pdf.

“Chladni Plates.” Smithsonian National Museum of American History, The Science Teaching Collection, americanhistory.si.edu/science/chladni.htm.

“Faculty of Science.” Annamalai University, 2019, www.annamalaiuniversity.ac.in/S00_info.php?fc=S00.

Kadri, Usama. “Tsunami Mitigation by Resonant Triad Interaction with Acoustic-Gravity Waves.” Heliyon, Volume 3, Issue 1, January 2017, ScienceDirect, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405844016318254.

Matchar, Emily. “Turning Irregular Heartbeats into Music.” Smithonian.com, 22 September 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/turning-irregular-heartbeats-music-180964991.

Okamoto, Hidehiko et al. “Listening to Tailor-Made Notched Music Reduces Tinnitus Loudness and Tinnitus-Related Auditory Cortex Activity.” National Academy of Sciences, 19 January 2010, National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2824261.

Rizzi, Sofia. “What is the Fibonacci Sequence – and Why is it the Secret to Musical Greatness?” Classic fM, 22 November 2018, www.classicfm.com/discover-music/fibonacci-sequence-in-music.

Rogenmoser, Lars et al. “Keeping Brains Young with Making Music.” Brain Structure and Function, Springer, 2017, musicianbrain.com/papers/Rogenmoser_Kernbach_Schlaug_Gaser_KeepingBrainYoung.pdf.

Sachs, Matthew E. et al. “Brain Connectivity Reflects Human Aesthetic Responses to Music.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2016, musicianbrain.com, musicianbrain.com/papers/Sachs_BrainConnectivity_AestheticResponses_to_Music_SocCognAffectNeurosci_2016.pdf.

“Tuning in: How Music May Affect Your Heart.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, November 2009, www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/tuning-in-how-music-may-affect-your-heart.

“Using Music to Tune the Heart.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, November 2009, www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/using-music-to-tune-the-heart.

Vines, Bradley W. et al. “Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation Enhances the Effects of Melodic Intonation Therapy.” Frontiers in Psychology, 26 September 2011, musicianbrain.com, musicianbrain.com/papers/Vines_Norton_Schlaug_MIT+tDCS.pdf.

“Whales, Dolphins, and Sound.” Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Energy, 2019, www.environment.gov.au/marine/marine-species/cetaceans/whale-dolphins-sound.

Zyga, Lisa. “Researchers Demonstrate Acoustic Levitation of a Large Sphere.” Phys.org, 12 August 2016, phys.org/news/2016-08-acoustic-levitation-large-sphere.html.

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Tiffany Williams started her musical journey at the age of 7 when she learned to play the keyboard. By the 6th grade the viola became her passion, and she played in her middle and high school string and symphonic orchestras, pit orchestra, and Chamber Ensemble. She has participated in multiple music events and festivals including Music in the Parks and NYSSMA (levels 5/6), and was inducted into the Tri-M Music Honor Society. In college she played in the string orchestra and was selected to play in the Binghamton Symphonic Orchestra. As a member of the Binghamton Explorchestra she played, conducted, and had the opportunity to showcase two of her own compositions. Pursuing her musical endeavors, she challenges herself to learning other instruments, and has composed 14 songs which are now copyrighted in the U.S. Library of Congress. She continues to play and compose and is delighted to be a part of the Sam Ash team.