Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Oct

Making Music: Why You Should Pick Up an Instrument and Start Playing

DjembeIn previous posts, I’ve spoken about the need to participate in innately human acts, those behaviors that seem to persist across cultures and languages and through space and time. To me, such universality implies importance and, perhaps, necessity. Why do humans from all places and all times dance or make tools or produce art if not to satisfy some Primal need that goes beyond tooth and claw survival? Today, I present to you another universal cultural constant deserving of our attention and participation: music.

Most people enjoy listening to music. Even if they don’t, even if someone isn’t the type to keep up with the latest bands or always have something playing in the background, there’s always that one song that gets them. The Beatles, for example. Who doesn’t like them? Anyway, listening to music has a number of positive physiological effects on us as I’ve discussed in a previous post, including reducing stress, providing dopamine hits (which we interpret as “getting the chills”) to our brain’s pleasure centers, and boosting motivation during exercise. What about the health effects of making and playing music? After all, someone has to play it.

Most of the research into the health effects of music playing focus on the brain, and for good reason: the brain is doing most of the work! The static model of the brain is dead, supplanted by the plastic model which shows that as we learn new things and think new thoughts, the anatomy of our brain – and its capabilities – changes. Recent research shows that music practice, which forces our brains to work in a completely different way, is an important contributor to neural plasticity. Even just two weeks of piano practice elicits neuroanatomical changes to the auditory cortex in non-musicians. It can also reduce or prevent the age-related degradation of Broca’s area, a section of the brain partially responsible for speech production. The same protective effect has been seen in the auditory cortex, which controls speech recognition among other things, of aging musicians.

Music training may enhance brain plasticity in other areas of the brain as well; other research has found that children who engage in musical training show increases in IQverbal memory, and linguistic ability, even when the control group is composed of kids with otherwise similar backgrounds (socioeconomic status, academics, etc) except for the music training.

That’s all well and good, but the primary benefit to playing an instrument is that it just makes you feel good. It’s obvious, even though I haven’t really played much since the sax, flute, and clarinet back in school, that playing music is fun. Just look at what it’s called: playing. 

Oh, and if you want a study to prove that playing music makes you feel good, I’ve got one. Last year, researchers found that playing an instrument (the drums), singing, or dancing all cause endorphin release (as shown by an increase in post-performance pain tolerance and, I’d guess, the presence of big old smiles). Merely listening to the same music did not have the same effect. You had to actively participate, either in its creation or through dance. Performing music also increased positive affect, helping participants feel enthusiastic, energetic, confident, active, and alert.

I believe it. I’ve gone down to the Venice Beach drum circle on Sundays just to vibe out. That’s where people from all walks of life (albeit with considerable representation from the hemp clothing-wearing demographic) hit the sand right around noon to jam. You’ll have rich entrepreneurs, dropouts, Rastas, addicts, tourists, surfers, day laborers, kids, sportos, motorheads, geeks, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, militant vegans, Crossfitters, soccer moms, and hipsters all banging on drums (or empty water jugs), shaking tambourines (or their tushes). Between dancers and drummers, the participant-to-spectator ratio is far higher than most other events, and that contributes a lot to the energy of the circle. By the time dusk hits, the circle has grown, and the beat changes organically. You’ll have different beats going on all over the circle, but somehow it meshes and blends. It’s very Primal. Feels like something straight out of Grok’s life. Highly recommended if you’re ever in the area.

I’m thinking we set up a drum circle for the next PrimalCon. What do you think?

Forget about all those health benefits supported by links to studies for a minute and consider how music affects you and those around you:

Think about how singing little ditties that you just made up on the spot using mostly nonsense words sends your four month old into the upper echelons of joy complete with ear splitting toothless grin.

Think about how tribal shamanic drumming can induce hallucinogenic, mystical states in those who listen to it.

Think about all those memories that are inextricably linked to the songs you listened to when those memories were being formed, and how you can relive the feelings you felt simply by listening to (or even thinking about) the songs.

Think about how you feel when you hear that song. You know, that song.

So music has power. You know that by listening to it and feeling what it does to you and by seeing the effect it has on others. Now imagine what it must feel like to wield that power, even just for an instant until you fall off beat and have to pick it back up, even if your only audience is yourself or an illiterate infant, even if you’re just jamming on a beach at midnight in front of open flames and wine bottles.

Oh, I almost forgot! There’s another benefit to playing music. For many people, picking up an instrument also means facing down a fear. Putting yourself out there, even if it’s just playing an unfamiliar instrument in front of people in a totally informal setting, can be really, really scary. It’s good to do things that scare you, whether it’s give a best man speech, ask that girl out, or pick up a guitar. It’s throwing yourself out into the uncomfortable unknown where you might mess up, make a fool of yourself, or be forced to admit that you’re not good at something. That last one is really tough for me and, I suspect, for many of you.

Okay, you’re convinced of the benefits and interested in obtaining some. To make it easier, I’d suggest picking up a relatively simple, easy to learn instrument that appeals to you, maybe off of Craigslist to reduce costs. Here are a few options. Be sure you listen to music made with the instrument before pulling the trigger:

  • Djembe – a West African hand drum
  • Ukelele – a guitar-like instrument with four strings, making it easier for beginners
  • Penny whistle – a simple woodwind instrument that hails from the British isles
  • Recorder – another simple woodwind instrument
  • Your own voice – singing is the oldest, most accessible way to make music

Once you’ve chosen an instrument, simply google “how to play [your instrument].” Look for free lessons on Youtube. Find a local drum circle or jam session on Pay for lessons. Or just play around and have fun. Just play, whatever you do.

You know, I haven’t told many people this, but it’s on my bucket list to get good enough at the piano to make $50 in tips playing at a dive bar somewhere. I think I’ll see about doing that now. How about you?

What say you, readers? Who plays an instrument? Why do you do it? Have you noticed any of the benefits mentioned in this post? And what would you recommend to beginners?

Thanks for reading! Take care and Grok on!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This is why I love that my children go to a Waldorf school. Lots and lots of music.

    Stephanie Paris wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • You’re an awesome mom for sending them to an alternative-school. I wish I had that kind of opportunity when I was a kid.

      I used to play guitar, but gave it up a long time ago. I’m listening to Metallica at this moment and miss playing!!!

      Mark P wrote on October 23rd, 2013
  2. Ron Swanson has a musical alias, Duke Silver. So Mark, any thoughts to yours?

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • Barefoot Pete… that’s the one…

      Matthew wrote on October 22nd, 2013
      • Primal Mark and the Funky Vibrams?

        Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on October 22nd, 2013
        • Well done

          Johnny Grok n'Roll wrote on October 23rd, 2013
        • Love it!!!

          shrimp4me wrote on October 23rd, 2013
  3. I don’t play an instrument (totally unmusical and can’t read music), but I do sing along to whatever is on the radio…. usually very badly out of tune!
    My children are all in the arts-based schooling stream – lots of music, lots of singing, dance….

    salixisme wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • You think Grok could read music? Reading music is irrelevant (if not counter-productive) for 99% of music-making traditions on the planet.

      Just pick up an instrument or your voide and have fun, play around!

      In sime languages the word that nearest translates “musician” does not discriminate between music makers and listeners. Simply by listening to music you are a musician.

      fifer wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  4. I used to pretend I could play guitar. Lately I’ve been thinking of grabbing my old acoustic and starting again. This post is probably a sign I should just go for it.

    Rob wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • Yes, what a sign! I just started teaching myself guitar a week ago. It’s going pretty good. Another aspect of (lyrical) music is the power the message that you can put in it has.

      ninjainshadows wrote on October 22nd, 2013
      • I’ve been playing guitar ever since I was 14 and still do years later. I love it. I feel like it helps me decompress and mentally tune out the problems of the world. It’s relaxing yet exercising the mind at the same time. Keep learning.

        Matt wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • I’m am awesome air guitarist myself!

      Duncan wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  5. Does playing Rock Band count? :-)

    Matthew wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • How about Guitar Wars? :)

      Wenchypoo wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  6. I dig the Ferris Bueller reference.

    Eric S. wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  7. From a personal perspective I can tell you that playing music is one of the most amazing feelings! I’ve read things here and there about how music has healing qualities.
    I’ve had back problems for much of my life, 2 surgeries in my 20’s…now feeling pretty good bodyweight training – focusing on total body, core, etc. This has happened multiple times…when I’ve had a small spasm or back issue and then end up playing a gig that night, I sometimes don’t even realize the next day that the pain is so much less or gone totally. Then I think back and wonder if it was the music??

    When I sing and play the guitar, it’s definitely therapeutic – but somehow doing it in front of people adds another dimension. Playing with other musicians and having a wow moment…sends serious chills through your body (you musicians know what i mean – it’s like a drug!).

    I honestly feel the need to play if I haven’t for a week or so…once again listen to Mark…try it…you’ll be hooked!

    Paul-E-C wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  8. Perfect timing! Rocksmith 2014 just came out today, a video game that can teach you to play guitar and bass!

    Brandon clobes wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • “Perfect timing! Rocksmith 2014 just came out today, a video game that can teach you to play guitar and bass!”

      I was about to say the same thing. I loved the first one (though some of its flaws were frustrating, like the cumbersome menu system), and this one promises to be much better. The first Rocksmith really helped me in learning guitar, and got me to a level that I would have never acheived otherwise. I’m downloading Rocksmith 2014 as I write this :)

      Michael wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  9. My motto the past few years has been “try new things”. Usually new things are scary to me, but I’ve created a lot of fun hobbies from this motto – crossfit, acro yoga, pole fitness, and pastels – each one scary in a different way. So I guess I will add drum circle to the try new things list. Or maybe karaoke?

    Kristi Horine wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  10. I played bass during high school and for a few years after. Managed to play some gigs. I had stage fright before the first time I went on and never afterwards. I’m dying to get back into a decent cover band that plays something I’ll enjoy but lately I’ve been doing karaoke at the bar around the corner from me Thursday nights. It’s a neighborhood bar, not a dedicated karaoke bar. The guy has a good selection of songs and is really cool. I don’t know if I have a “good” voice but it’s strong and I know enough about music that I’ve been doing a decent job. People are actually applauding for me and whatnot. Feels very good, very therapeutic. I may even look into singing for a band. :)

    glorth2 wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  11. Yes on the PrimalCon drum circle!
    And I encourage even those who think they can’t sing well to sing–it really can be learned, and since our laryngeal muscles atrophy with speech alone, it can take a while to build those back up to the point where you’re making a more beautiful tone, but it CAN be done. I had a voice teacher whose vocal theory was that our laryngeal muscles developed to make what we would call singing sounds–crying, laughing, wailing, moaning, etc., and what we have cultivated into singing. But speech doesn’t work those muscles, so SING!

    Tom B-D wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • TY so much for that info–I was a trained opera singer in my late teens (voice matured very early) but I lost most of it in my early 20’s and never have gotten very much of it back. I really miss it; the thought that using it again consistently could help revive it was just what I needed on an otherwise really kreppy day. I still get complements when I DO bust loose, whether at ethnic music festivals, church etc.
      I envy you guitarists and keyboard players; I’m no good at anything requiring all the fingers on both hands to work together so I have much better luck playing one-handed instruments (French horn when I was a kid), or drumming. I have a bodhran I bought in Ireland that I whip out especially at the Irish festivals I go to; gives me good practice and everything else is loud enough to drown me out.
      My next musical project is to learn to play the autoharp–have one already that family has had forever. I saw a film that showed June Carter playing one plucking the strings like a guitar, forming the chords w/ the bars–amazing. Found a drum circle here in KC via Meetup (first found out about THAT here) who has members that give lessons so I may check that out. The voice that I have left fits best w/ folk/country/traditional—bottom line is that I have some hope again–if I’m not so depressed following a healthy eating plan is much easier.

      shrimp4me wrote on October 23rd, 2013
  12. I’ve been playing the piano for decades, and it’s pretty thrilling to have an arena in mid-life where I’m still improving. I only returned to choral singing a few years ago, and it’s been amazing in itself (plus the synergy with the musical skills of the so-solo piano practice surprised me).

    Singing in a chorus has all kinds of crazy health benefits – they’ve found in older choral singers not only the expected improvement in measures like depression and cognition, but also immune response – and fewer falls, fewer medications, more independence for longer. Get out there and make a joyful noise, folks!

    Sara in Brooklyn wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  13. My 3 children filled our home with music … guitar, violin and flute. Now they are gone to college without their instruments and our home was so silent…so now I sit with all the kids at our local music store to learn the guitar myself…sore fingers, lots of fret buzzes…..but having a riot….hoping soon I’ll be able to pick out a tune.

    Judy G wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  14. Finally we get to something important on this site….avoiding gluten, eating fat, sprinting barefoot, all minor details! Music is where it’s at! Tim Ferriss outlined a great way to learn guitar a little while back. It’s pretty much how I learned 15 years ago but with worship music instead of rock/pop. Plus my 9 month old loves “singing” and banging on pianos, guitars, and of course drums. Keep the music flowing!

    Ham-bone wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  15. I love the idea of a PrimalCon drum circle. I was wondering why we didn’t do one this year.

    Music definitely has a healing effect. Whenever I’ve had friends confined to a hospital bed, I’d call the hospital staff ahead of time to see if it was ok to come visit and play Celtic harp for the patient. Usually, the nurses also benefited from soothing music, too.

    Russell wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  16. This article was music to my ears.

    Nocona wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  17. My dad had a super rough childhood (his mom died by the time he was 9 and his dad died when he was 11, then he was given to a lady who abused him) so he began playing the snare drum, and all other percussion really, but the snare drum has always been his preference. His older brother did not, in fact he played no instrument. My dad is one of the most positive people I have ever met, most of the time (we all have our bad days). His brother is eternally disgruntled and upset at the world. I wonder how much of that had to do with my dad’s ability to escape into the drums, given that they were raised in an identical environment. He still plays in an old-man version of a drum line- the Pacific Alliance. It makes a lot of sense after reading this post. I myself can keep a good beat, can do some para-diddles and such, but am not extremely good at it. My dad had drummed with some of the best, and might be one of the best for all I know. The most I can do is sing aloud- not too horrifically. Yes, music is more than capable of lifting a person up.

    Case in point, I went to a Josh Groban concert at the beginning of the month and still can’t get over how it impacted me in a very physical way- like I could feel connected to all the people around me somehow. By the way, I am a HUGE Josh Groban fan, so that probably helps, but you get the idea. I wasn’t expecting that kind of connection/physical sensation at all, but it happened nonetheless. The most intense feeling like that was when he asked the audience to sing “You Raise Me Up” with him. It was pretty amazing, despite the fact that it’s a song I generally don’t enjoy because it’s been overplayed. If I think about it, I can still feel it- weird. Cool, but weird.

    I know this is long. Just a little bit more and I will be done. I would argue that most of the arts are capable of doing that though on one level or another. I write (writing a book now, in fact) and I know people who draw and paint and there is a lot of joy and freedom in that as well. Heck, I can’t draw or paint that well, but it doesn’t stop me from getting joy from doing it. Good times. Good post.

    Stephanie wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  18. Music and dance is part of my life, but more as a hobby. I’ve been taking belly dance lessons for about 4 years, and we have to be very aware of the music, because our bodies are the instruments. Our bodies interpret the music. We do play zills (finger cymbals) on occasion, as well. I’ll be 51 in November and plan to dance for a long, long time. I also love jammin’ out to rock live bands.

    Stacy wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  19. Having played a brass instrument for the past 4 1/2 + decades since I turned 10, I am not sure what I would do if I couldn’t play. Being a data analyst by trade, it is a great outlet to haul my baritone/euphonium to practice each week. (It weighs about 35+ pounds in its case – Primal Law # 3 : lift heavy things!) I may have had a rough day in my cubicle or been tense from the traffic getting there, but when I leave rehearsal I feel like I have been energized. I currently play in a British style brass band, and feeling the audience’s response to a moving performance of a tough piece is almost electric. There’s something about being part of a 45-piece ‘tribe’ of talented brass and percusion musicians producing an integrated, balanced, and blended wall of sound to a receptive audience. I also do solo performances, and even though I have done this for several decades for a variety of audiences, my knees always shake. Not content with that, I also ring in an English handbell choir with 10 members. We each are responsible for 2 notes with their accidentals (sharps and flats) and we have to ring the bell at just the right moment in time when our ‘note’ comes along in the music. If not, it is like a record getting stuck or a CD skipping a track (did I just date myself – ahh, vinyl!) For newbies, I would say to start small. Don’t try to tackle Chopin’s Sonata in C minor. Be patient and have fun – Primal Law # 6 : Play. And if you find that it disturbs the neighbors or their dog, use Primal Law # 4 : Run really fast.

    Mark wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • I used to play the baritone horn!!! :)

      “For newbies, I would say to start small. Don’t try to tackle Chopin’s Sonata in C minor. Be patient and have fun – Primal Law # 6 : Play. And if you find that it disturbs the neighbors or their dog, use Primal Law # 4 : Run really fast.”

      LOL!! I’d also say try to play the music you like. Unfortunately, classically trained music teachers tend to think their students would also like to play classical music. Almost every other genre is easier and quite often more fun. If you don’t like classical music and don’t want to play it, find a teacher that will teach you what you do want to play!

      Amy wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • My bad! I wasn’t engaging Primal Law # 10 : Use your mind. I should have said not to attempt Chopin’s ‘Prelude’ in C minor, not Sonata… in case any one noticed. I was too hasty when I ‘composed’ the initial comment all by myself.

      Mark wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • Euphonium player here … can’t get enough of that Gustav Holst!

      Adam wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  20. I must be the only person in the world who hates music. Music is that noise that’s on when I’m trying to read. I spend a lot of time turning off all the sources of noise (music) in my house while everyone else is busy turning them on. I can immediately feel it causing my blood pressure to rise and a headache coming on. I had a friend who could no longer listen to music when she was suffering a bout with anxiety. She described how she used to love listening to her daughter sing and the radio on in the car but while she was suffering anxiety everything sounded like nails on a chalkboard. I said welcome to my life, I’ve always been like that. It doesn’t matter what kind of music it is. But drums and guitar solos would definitely be at the top of my list to avoid. I realize I am probably alone in experiencing this as most people talk about how they couldn’t live without music.

    Pamela wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • In fairness, you maybe suffering from sound/sensory overload. Up until 100 years ago, music was something you made for yourself (singing) or listened to periodically. Our modern era has too much of all forms of stimulation.

      Amy wrote on October 22nd, 2013
      • Overload may be why I very seldom listen to music in the car–it’s too distracting. Funny how good music can be almost as distracting as bad. I have a real problem w/ shrieking/squealing electric guitar work, especially if it’s off-key. I used to get earaches in the car when my husband insisted on having the stereo on (reasonable volume); low pitches are even more painful than high ones.

        shrimp4me wrote on October 23rd, 2013
    • When I went for my first checkup after getting hearing aids my audiologist commented on what a silent world I live in. I never have background music playing. I can listen to my husband’s music sometimes but sometimes I have to ask him to either turn it off or put on his headphones. When our daughter joined the school orchestra in 5th grade I was so glad she chose the string bass for her instrument since I could tolerate the wrong notes of a bass much better than those of a violin.

      Linda Sand wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • I certainly count myself among the music-lovers, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be very irritating when you’re trying to focus on something else, or to sleep! Especially when you can’t escape it. For me, the most annoying thing of all is hearing two different, clashing sources of sound at once. Even when it’s not terribly loud, that can truly drive me a little crazy!

      Paleo-curious wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • I love music but I rarely listen to it. It’s one of those things that demands so much of my attention, it’s difficult for me to have on in the background.

      Having the TV or music I didn’t choose playing somewhere nearby exhausts me mentally. I can’t tune it out and it drives me crazy!

      I have to wonder, Pamela, if your problem is not that you hate music, but that you hate distractions. If you choose the music and you can concentrate on it properly, do you like it then?

      Angel wrote on October 23rd, 2013
    • Having studied a bit of environmental psychology, I know that I am very sensitive to sound like you are. Some people need it to function, others need an absence to function. There a normal curve (shocking). Music for has its place and time and even then I am sensitive. My current “thing” is that yoga and music really don’t mix for me but yet people seem to expect it in an ancient meditative tradition. So that’s an attachment for me to let go of but still. . . when I enjoy music I enjoy it freely and let myself go. Holding myself in two places is just way too much.

      Juli wrote on October 24th, 2013
  21. Just a different opinion about “easy to play instruments.” I would not classify the recorder as easy to play. You need to blow into it just right — there are no real adjustments on the mouth piece. The holes have to be completely covered to attain the correct pitch. If your fingers are too small or too large, it’s problematic in a way that would not be on a flute.

    And then for all that fiddly work, you end up with a sound that’s very thin and quiet. At least you can be loud with a bugle. There is a reason they abandoned the recorder as serious instrument after the middle ages.

    I’ve often thought they put those things in elementary schools to convince kids in mass that playing an instrument is difficult and unsatisfying experience.

    Amy wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  22. I sing and play fiddle and mandolin. I have been singing since I was in preschool (my dad was a choir directory), but started fiddle at 22 and mandolin at 24. I currently play in a group that performs in nursing homes about once a month and I cantor at church about every other week. I have played with the Society for Creative Anachronisms at dances and just to play (medieval and Renaissance music). Through it all, I have experienced just about everything Mark mentioned.

    I am an extreme introvert. At age 22, on my first violin “test”, I was a grad student studying physics at Rice University in Houston taking lessons from another grad student studying violin. Just before I walked on stage to perform, my instructor informed me that I was so lucky, the Houston Symphony first chairs of the string section were going to be my jury. It almost paralyzed me. However, I got through it, and all the other fears I had in performing before someone else. Music is meant to be performed in front of other people. Doing it by yourself somehow diminishes it. Just getting together with a group is good, but performing before an audience is great. Audiences want you to succeed, and usually do not notice when you mess up. Pros mess up all the time – they just ignore it and keep going. Now I do the same.

    As for mental agility – try playing a new piece on the guitar while singing it at the same time. This uses almost 100% of your brain functions – verbal, math, creative, … The first time I tried to sing and play mandolin at the same time was not pretty. I got better. Now I can do it without thinking – too much ;).

    The best time to start an instrument is when you are six years old. The next best time is right now. My wife and I are in our mid fifties. She just started learning recorder a couple of years ago and is doing great. If you don’t play something – start. You will not regret it.

    If you want something easy, I will second the uke and recorder recommendations and add mandolin and electric bass. Be aware that any of these are easy to start, but, like any musical instrument, will take time and effort to get good. If you want a challenge, try violin or french horn.

    Go for it!

    Damien Gray wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • I second that about French horn–had it basically handed to me when i was 10, being told how difficult it was but never a professional lesson.
      I also took up bugling in the 8th grade–no valves so lip tension is the only way to change the notes. Before I changed schools at the end of 9th grade I taught several of the up-and-coming 8th graders how to bugle–very satisfying experience PLUS they all passed their tryouts.

      shrimp4me wrote on October 23rd, 2013
  23. “I’m thinking we set up a drum circle for the next PrimalCon. What do you think?”

    How come no one ever suggests setting up a brass band for these types of things? 😉

    Amy wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • Yeah, or how about an ululation party?

      Tom B-D wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  24. I’ve played saxophone for most of my life (since I was 8-ish) and violin before that. My dad plays woodwinds, my brother plays trombone, my mom is atonal but she loves a good Latin beat and will dance around to it, and my sister was a professional dancer so we have the “dancing to music” part covered. :-)

    Performing in front of people used to put the FEAR in me, but now I’m used to being onstage playing something (now competing in local O-lifting meets put the FEAR in me). BUT it is good, as you say, to get out of our comfort zones.

    Last night, I had a whole clarinet solo to do in big band rehearsal, and I’m not primarily a clarinet player. But I felt the adrenalin rush and went with it, and did just fine (and now see where I Have to practice because we have a gig on Sunday)!

    Mel wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  25. Great post, Mark. If anything is primal, it’s got to be music and the drum circle is the most natural, primal, social thing out there. And so easy to join in on. There should be one in every town. Never think that you are “not musical”, because you are. A drum circle is a great way for those who think they lack musicality to connect with it. Just remember to hang out a while. Let the power of the groove work on you and notice how it becomes part of you. Very healing.

    Michael wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  26. As part of my no regrets lifestyle change my husband bought me a violin. It is my favorite instrument and the one I regretted stopping as a teen. I fiddled with it for a year and then got a teacher. While I have no delusions of ever playing in an orchestra, I am enjoying the basic level of competency I have obtained in the few years. Between violin and karate I am happier, as a side effect I am more active.

    Stephanie G wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  27. nicely timed post, mark. as most of the country is being chased inside by earlier sunsets, we all have more evening time to practice an instrument. by candlelight of course. you got my scottish roots begging for some pennywhistle.

    aly c. wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  28. I also recommend the “Riq”, a Egyptian tambourine. It’s a Primal instrument with jingles! You can just find a kids tambourine somewhere, or for around $100 you can buy a high-quality, indestructible Riq. My teacher recommends the REMO Glen Velez.

    Will Cook wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  29. I have to point out that correlation causation. I would certainly agree that making music makes *me* feel good, but I’m not sure that it’s any more than the good feeling I get from other accomplishments. It is not clear whether the musical training enhances other academic accomplishment, or if musical talent is just closely related.

    In addition to being an embedded-systems programmer, I am a professional violinist and violin/viola teacher. I have noticed that all of my better students excel at math and the hard sciences. In fact, I recently lost one of my more advanced students because he got a math scholarship to a school outside of my area — and I’m likely to lose his brother next year for the same reason.

    Back when I was in high school (4 decades ago), I won first place in a UIL math competition with a paper about music. In my research for that paper, one of the things I learned was that the percentage of engineers and scientists who played a musical instrument was much higher than the percentage of the general population who were musicians.

    I tell all of my students that music is a form of mathematics.

    The school districts local to me have adopted the Asian model of requiring musical training for 3 years starting in grade 6 (that local policy keeps my violin studio full of students, so I’m glad). Even if that does not boost other academic achievements, it’s certainly a effective way to discover who has musical talent. Which may be the reason so many of the current crop of musical prodigies are Asian.

    Howard Lee Harkness wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  30. I’ve thought about taking up the Djembe in the past little while. I love the primal essence of drumming and I find it very spiritual. To learn how to produce that essence would be awesome.

    Griffin wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  31. I played clarinet and baritone sax in high school, don’t play it very often these days. My youngest son plays brass (trumpet and tuba). One of his friends got a really nice ocarina and talked him into getting one too. Listening to him play it around the house got me interested. So now I have two wonderful sounding handmade ocarinas that are a joy to play, and it was easy to learn! If anyone is interested they can check out Songbird Ocarina online, they have some good videos of great songs.

    Rema wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  32. I can’t sing or play to save my life, but I love going to Zumba for that reason of elation and happiness when you just jump and rush about with up-beat music. I know Zumba is much sneered upon these forums, but well, I love it.

    leida wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  33. Great article. This is why I actually AVOID sites like Luminosity, QuantifiedMind, etc. simply because it’s just more screen glare and EMF. Instead, I grab my guitar and head out to the backyard garden. Screw brain game smartphone apps and bring on my Stairway To Heaven tabs.

    Ben Greenfield wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  34. I don’t play any instruments, but I’m a hoop dancer & move to music nearly every day. It most definitely improves my mood as well as requiring me to use my mind & body in ever-changing ways– figuring out how to perform new tricks, discovering new combinations & transitions, & especially “thinking on my feet” when dancing with our local drum circle once a week.

    Even dancing alone gives me a lot of pleasure, but the energy of that weekly jam is like a drug! It definitely seems to key into some deep primal need to move with rhythm & expressiveness.

    Paleo-curious wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  35. A drum circle at Primalcon? Would this be the one in Mexico? I would so be down with that. 😀

    Aria wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  36. Yes on the drum circle at Primal Con!

    Stella wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  37. I definitely have that fear to pick up any instrument. And it would be so rare and so recreational (with little real attempts to “try” to improve, which is hard for me; I am a perfectionist and wish to be good at anything I decide to set my mind to).

    However, I have been a karaoke singer for a couple years now and LOVE it! Of course I practice the songs first, typically while driving. But I definitely get a great feeling being around some of the friends I have made there and others I bring with me! Occasionally I’ll step out side the box: for me, that’s singing a song I think I know relatively well but never formally practiced.

    I enjoy singing so much that I have even been tempted by job ideas I have been told about, as well as by a karaoke host inviting me to join the local municipal choir. Tempting…

    Kevin A Goldman wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • I agree that singing can be as important as playing an instrument. I sang in my high school choir. Being part of some incredible harmonies is incredible.

      Jon wrote on October 22nd, 2013
      • er…shouldn’t use the same word twice in a sentence.

        Jon wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  38. We are all hardwired differently and some people naturally have more talent at math, linguistics, or music etc. I took a few guitar lessons and at the end of the series the instructor suggested I take up stamp collecting LOL. All kidding aside, I think activities to stimulate the brain in different ways is great. My tastes in music run from Rage Against the Machine to Deuter. Would be good for me to at least strum a few chords for a few minutes every day. I think 15 minutes of practice every day is better than a single two hour session once a week.

    George wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  39. Would it hurt to take a few minutes away from drum circles to support music in our public schools, then? How many kids out there only get access to playing musical instruments through school, and yet when the budget cuts come, music is one of the first on the chopping block.

    I’m a professional clarinetist, and my husband is a music teacher who can’t get a job in the New England area because every time someone retires, that job gets reduced to less than a half-time position or gets absorbed into someone else’s job. In other words, music teachers are disappearing.

    It’s not just about band and chorus, either. When I worked in Texas, where the band programs were as big as the football programs, they had enough teachers, enough flexibility, and enough enthusiasm to go as far as developing mariachi bands for the kids, so they got to learn about their culture through music.

    Whenever I play gigs with families, I’m always amazed at how many kids come and look over our shoulders or dance around, even if it’s my “stuck-up” woodwind quintet. They’re fascinated. But by not supporting music in public schools, we’re taking a source of wonder and enjoyment away from them. What a shame.

    And, now I’m off my high horse.

    Deanna wrote on October 22nd, 2013
    • Some thoughts:

      -Most of the New England area is aging. (Maine and VT have the oldest median ages in the nation.) It’s harder to get teaching jobs where school populations are on the decline.

      In Texas, both the school age population and the population in general is on the rise. I would expect it would be much easier there to find open teaching jobs.

      -This is political, but since the 60’s there are have been many unfunded mandates on schools. Communities and states only have so much money to throw at education. Money that must be spent on say, special education, at some point is going to dip into more optional activities.

      I don’t think it’s a matter of will necessarily, but at some point, something’s gotta give in the budget. :(

      Amy wrote on October 22nd, 2013

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