This is a guest post written by Aeyons drums teacher Magesh
I remember hearing about the technology of the 'infinite scroll' for mobile phones when it first came out. Where you could scroll down your phone and get information about your friend's birthdays that were coming up, soon-to-be-released movies, what bands were performing in your town, and the current price of fish. You were able to get all this information and a whole lot more in mere seconds. My initial thought was 'this will destroy people's attention spans'!
Even if you play an instrument as a hobby, it still requires you to practice for a certain amount of time. In that time you focus on what notes to play, your breathing, tempo, and pitch. In today's world of constant information, even 30 minutes may seem like a long time to go without checking your phone. I want to talk about the different ways learning an instrument will help you focus. Hopefully, the ability to focus will spill over to other areas of your life.
This article I read which was written by a physiologist confirmed this:
“Focus is necessary for learning an instrument and learning an instrument forces you to use all the parts of the brain involved in concentration. This translates into an improved ability to concentrate in all other life situations.” (Source)
Active Listening - Although I teach the drums and the piano I recently bought a bass guitar. I wanted to learn some of my favourite songs. Although I knew I could watch a YouTube tutorial on how to play the bass part or google 'bass transcription' I chose not to do either. I wanted to use the system I used for learning a drum part when I was a kid. That system was to simply listen to 1 note at a time.
The process went like this: Press play, listen to the note I'm trying to work out, press pause, try and find the note, then repeat this cycle. Was this method time-consuming? Absolutely. Could I have got this music off the internet and played the song in half the time? Right again. Although this would have missed the whole point of the exercise. I was training my brain to focus on one note at a time. Once I could replicate the bass part it gave me a sense of achievement I could not have gotten from simply 'Googling it.'
Paying attention to details – When most people listen to a song they only really hear the singer singing the melody. When you learn a song you force your brain to zone in on one or several specific parts. Initially, this is quite difficult to do. The hi-hat part is in the high register whereas the bass drum is in the low register. This takes a great deal of focus to not be distracted by other instruments. After you do this enough times your brain becomes familiar with the sounds of your instrument. This makes it easier to work out melodies or beats in the future.
Playing in the 'now' - When you initially start to learn a piece of music, you do this by learning 1 note at a time. Gradually you piece several notes together and before you know it you are playing a 3-minute song. Although something interesting happens from learning the song to playing the song. You are 100 percent in the moment when you are learning the song because you are so focused on that particular note, regardless of the instrument you play.
Once you memorize the piece and muscle memory becomes involved it is easy to play the song while thinking about what TV show you are going to binge on the weekend. The best way to be in the moment when playing a song that you may have played 100 times before is to imagine it is the first time you have played it. This brings your focus back to the present moment, regardless of how well you know the song.
The ability to focus goes beyond just learning a musical instrument but is also tied to listening to music. Dr. Masha Godkin from North Central university said:
“Music has a profound effect on our mood, blood pressure, and heart rate. For the best music to focus and study, choose tunes that keep you awake but won't cause you to start tapping your body to the beat.” (source)
I can say without a doubt that learning an instrument has helped me improve my focus in other areas of my life. An example would be when I have to have a music contract looked over by my lawyer. He says so much boring (but necessary!) stuff that I would simply fall asleep if not for my laser-like focus. I owe this all to learning a musical instrument.