Musicians have better brains, but what makes them that way?genes or practice and exposure to music? And researchers discovered that when jazz musicians improvise, their brains turn off areas linked to self-censoring and inhibition. Does music soothe the savage beast? A group of musicians is studying music’s effect on animals.

By looking at brains listening to Bach, researcher Elizabeth Margulis found evidence to support one side in a long-running debate among musicians. Practice, training and experience, it appears, are what develop a musician’s ear, not genetic predisposition. She found that trained musicians have more extensive and complex neural responses to music played on their OWN instruments than on another instrument. In other words, violinists? brains respond most actively when listening to violin music.

When listening to classical music, audiences are expected to sit quietly and listen without tapping feet or humming along. After her research, Margulis says, “Perhaps musical experience needs to be less passive and more active. Perhaps we need to connect music more with other domains of activity.”

Using fMRI machines and musician volunteers, researchers have shed light on the creative improvisation that artists and non-artists use in everyday life. It appears that jazz musicians create their unique improvised riffs by turning off inhibition and turning up creativity.

Researcher Charles J. Limb says, “When jazz musicians improvise, they often play with eyes closed in a distinctive, personal style that transcends traditional rules of melody and rhythm. It?s a remarkable frame of mind during which, all of a sudden, the musician is generating music that has never been heard, thought, practiced or played before. What comes out is completely spontaneous.”

In, Maryann Mott quotes harpist Alianna Boone as saying, “The structure of the harp is considered to be the most healing instruments next to human voice.” She tested this by playing her harp for hospitalized dogs in a Veterinarian clinic, and found that her music lowered the patients? heart rate, respiration rate and anxiety.

Tracie Russell calmed a boisterous cow by playing a CD of harp music, causing it to fall asleep. Sue Raimond played her harp for an angry male gorilla at a zoo in Boston, with the same results.

The key to wisdom is to learn from the past. Maybe humans with insomnia should try listening to a CD of harp music while trying to fall asleep…or maybe to our great Dreamland shows (except those will keep you awake!)

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