Don’t miss reading the December 2017 issue of the AARP Bulletin. If you don’t get it in the mail, it’s worth a trip to your library. The main section is “Boost Your Brain Power.” It’s a treasure of important advice. I want to expand on one point in the article: Keep Your Focus.
Keep Your Focus by Ken Budd explains how the highly fragmented information constantly coming at us is affecting our ability to focus and how it changes our brains.
Budd recommends “6 WAYS TO REGAIN YOUR FOCUS.” Number one is “Grab a good novel.” Number two is “Play an instrument.” He doesn’t say anything about how playing an instrument improves focus.
Playing an instrument—especially in an ensemble—requires complete focus without lapses. You need to make the tone good, articulate correctly, listen to see if it is tune, play the right notes for the right duration, listen to see how it fits with the rest of the music, watch a conductor and make it artistically expressive. After all of that, there isn’t room in your attention to think about other things. If there is a lapse in your focus, the feedback is immediate: “Oops, I played on a rest,” or a director saying “that’s too loud, or “the notes need to be shorter,” …
I’m all for reading novels, but it doesn’t require the same level of attention. It’s possible for your attention to lapse: “What do I smell cooking in the kitchen?” Sometimes I can read a few pages and realize that I really wasn’t paying attention well enough to understand what I just read.
What else do you do in your life that requires focusing as completely and for as long as playing music? Think about it. A golfer hitting a ball is probably totally focused for a few minutes every time he hits. Team sports must require constantly thinking strategy and an awareness of everything going on, so if you play football or basketball for several hours each week your ability to focus may be getting some exercise.
The ability to focus for long periods of time is one of the things that kids develop when they play music. That ability can help them also learn other things and succeed in whatever they do.
I have a nice feeling after playing music. Maybe it is partially that I have escaped the the constant storm of fragmentary information constantly flowing through my brain. Maybe focusing makes me feel good.