Orchestrate Your Brain

Copyright © 2011 Maria Simeone

Music can be used purposefully to support different types of brain activity whether you are studying, creating or simply relaxing! Combining listening to music with live music making is the BEST way to make music an important part of daily life. In this article, I’ve compiled some categories and suggested music to help you on your journey. Explore, experiment and have FUN!

Organizational Thinking (planning, goal-setting, memorizing, etc.)

Play and make music that has a strong beat and repeated predictable phrases that also have a strong beat. Instrumental music WITHOUT vocals is preferred. Look for music that is not too fast, not to ornamental – simple instrumentation, predictable musical phrasing.

Here are some recommendations for RECORDED music to support Organizational Thinking:

Classical Music - I’d recommend any string (violin, viola, cello), piano or woodwind music (flute, oboe, or clarinet) by Bach, Vivaldi, Handel or Mozart that is marked “moderato – andante” (this refers to the speed or musical “tempo”) Basically, pick a piece that is an easy walking speed. Choose from concertos, preludes & fugues, marches, minuets, or portions of a Mozart Sonata. Renaissance dance music (in fact, most dance music from the 15th-18th century music would work!) is also great!

World Music - Folk music, Sousa marches, Native American drum music.

Contemporary Music - Classic Rock n’ Roll with a steady “back beat” can work great and keep your energy going, too!

Here are some recommendations for LIVE music to support Organizational Thinking:

Vocal - chants and “rapping” (rap math facts, spelling words, etc.) – Really fantastic for memory, too!

Body Drumming - drumming on the body by tapping, patting, clapping. Especially great when you combine it with rapping!

Creative Thinking (including problem solving, divergent thinking, developing imagination)

Play music that has both a strong beat in addition to unpredictable rhythms, speed, phrasing and/or instrumentation. This is music that really draws your focus, keeps you hoppin’ both mentally and physically!

Here are some recommendations for RECORDED music to support Creative Thinking:

Classical – Piano variations by Mozart or Beethoven, “Program Music”, ballet music, opera overtures, music by Copland, Saint-Saens, Gershwin or Bernstein

Jazz – Big band to modern, including “scat”

World Music - Samba, Boleros, Salsa, Afro-Brazilian, Caribbean, Reggae, Indian Ragas and Talas

Contemporary Music – Ska, Hip-Hop, Blue Grass

Here are some recommendations for LIVE music to support Creative Thinking:

Scatting – vocal improvisation (more chanted than sung) using nonsense syllables and words (super fun and also great stress reducer!)

Singing – making up your own words to a favorite song or simple, familiar melody

Drumming – Any surface will do, or you can use an actual drum. Create your own rhythms using real words, silly words, or just jam! Adding bells, tone blocks or other percussion instruments adds to your fun!

Calm, Relaxed Thinking

Play music that sounds very “spacious” – space between notes and phrases, may/may not have a melody. Music that sounds lower, with deep resonances will relax both your brain and body

Here are some recommendations for RECORDED music to support Calm, Relaxed Thinking:

Classical Music – Music from the Medieval period, i.e. Gregorian chant. Any slower “movement” or portion of a larger piece of music by Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Saint-Saens. One example would be the 1st movement of the “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven.

World Music – Tibetan Chant, Taize, Chinese Pipa music, Tibetan Singing Bowls and Crystal bowls.

Contemporary - Music specifically recorded/ labeled to induce “Alpha” and “Theta” brainwave states

Here are some recommendations for LIVE music to support Calm, Relaxed Thinking:

Deep Breathing – breathing deeply from the belly. Listening carefully to the inhale/exhale (yes, this is music!)

Vocal – humming, vocal “toning” (taking a deep breath and vocalizing one sound or “tone” on the exhale such as “AH” or “OH”). Making “releasing” vocal sounds such as big sighs and yawns.

Body Percussion – Slow tapping, patting on the body using a very direct touch

Additional Tips:

  • Recorded music played softly is more effective than music played loudly
  • Speed of music is one of the most important elements when choosing your music. Faster speeds will charge up your brain and nervous system (note: played for extended periods of time, fast music will stress your brain/nerves and get you hyped-up!). Slower speeds will relax and deactivate (note: played for extended periods, slow music will make you low energy and sleepy). Everything in moderation – even your music choices ☺
  • Music that is at a speed of 60 beats/second will stabilize your Central Nervous System and vital organ activity
  • Some types of vocal music (particularly if it is a woman’s voice) can elicit a strong emotional response from children
  • MP3/digitally recorded music is not as effective for brain orchestration because the vital overtones of the music have been compressed out. Analog recorded music with headphones for brain orchestration is the preferred choice.
  • When using music to enhance memory and study time (Organizational Thinking), it’s most effective to use the SAME music each time for the SAME material. For example, if you used a particular Mozart minuet to study your times tables, use that same piece every time you study those same times tables.
  • For children that are very/overly active and you want to use music to calm them – Start with music from the Organizational Thinking category (something with a strong, steady, predictable beat) NOT the Calm/Relax category. Seems counter-intuitive, but over activity is often calmed by a steady beat and “relaxing” music is too spacious and prevents children from grounding themselves in both their brain and body.