From the beginning, we have been told that we come into this world with a certain amount of innate intelligence. Many people believe that creativity is something one either has or doesn’t have. So, we accept this as fact and learn to live and work with what we have.
What if all this were not true? What if we could learn to increase our brain function and intelligence? What if we could activate our intuitive and creative powers?
Years ago, before my private teaching had become in-demand in Manhattan, I taught instrumental music at Chaminade High School, in Mineola, NY. Chaminade is a private, parochial school run by the Marianist Order of the Roman Catholic Church. It is also my alma mater. I was one of the three woodwind teachers. There were several others who taught the other instrument groups.
One day, I was summoned to the Head Principal’s office. “Oh, no! I thought. What did I do?”
He stated,”It has been brought to my attention, Mr. Finn, that you have an unusual number of students who place in the top ten of their respective class, year after year. What is your secret?”
Phew! I was relieved! I told him that after my first-year teaching at Chaminade, I had developed a theory of how the brain worked. (Disclaimer: I’m not a neuroscientist.) I then conveyed this theory to all of my students. They were challenged to have the discipline to practice every day for one month before they began their homework or in the midst of their homework session. (This IS a challenge because Chaminade gives tons of homework!)
I guaranteed my students that they would, in a few weeks, find that their brains were working better. They would have a greater attention span, need less time to study, witness improved retention and see their grades begin to increase.
Interestingly, students who successfully practiced each day for one month continued practicing throughout their schooling at Chaminade. Their enjoyment of music increased as did their GPA. One student had even emailed me from Johns Hopkins Medical School relating that he was still practicing every day!
I had a simple term for my concept. It was called BRAIN BALANCING. Was it based on science? At the time, no. But, it intuitively made sense. The idea is that playing a musical instrument causes areas of the brain to activate and make connections that no other activity can. All day long, the student sits in classes, listens to the teacher, takes notes, reads and memorizes notes, takes tests, etcetera. They are using the same parts of the brain over and over again.
What if the student’s brain could get a relief break and instead use parts of their brain that lay predominantly dormant all day? It would perhaps give the over-taxed part of the brain a chance to rest and revitalize. Wouldn’t it?
What if a car uses all of it’s cylinders simultaneously? Surely it would have much more power and efficiency? Students were learning to coordinate brain functions that they wouldn’t necessarily use for anything else.
Musicians use their arms and fingers independently in coordination with their breathing. (Unless you type, most of us solely open, close, or clasp our hands, most of the day.) They use their inner ear, sense of intonation, voice, balance, posture, and eyes (when reading music.) They develop and coordinate interpretative abilities, memory, musculature, sense of rhythm, intuition, linear and non-linear time, pitch recognition, empathy and awareness of others, as well as creativity. All required for playing a musical instrument.
I relayed to my students that when they played their instruments, it was as if they were “lubricating their brain with fresh new oil that gets to all the lobes,” so to speak. Both hemispheres of the brain would be working in concert together. They were preparing and developing their brain to run smoother and function better.
Creativity can be developed from the encouragement of individualistic interpretations of written music, but also through the process of learning to ad-lib or improvise on a musical instrument. Students were encouraged to compose music. Even just writing out simple riffs is the beginning of music composition.
The “artistic approach” to learning an instrument, to improvising, and composing, further develops the student’s confidence and ability to create. To be spontaneous. To again, as mentioned in my article “Leadership in the Modern Workplace…”, develop the ability “to-think-on-your-feet. The artistic approach provides students with a method to develop and create in any field of interest.
The value of learning and understanding the artistic process and how it parlays or transfers to all creative endeavors was made aware to all of my students. It’s the innovators and creative thinkers, in any field, who are the shining stars.
Finally, students learn to develop patience, risk taking, concentration, and the value of delayed gratification. They learn to become comfortable with solitude. They acquire a valuable, useful, and entertaining way to relax and relieve stress. In older age, they can keep their brains active and share and create fellowship and community with their music.
Yes, creativity, originality, and improved brain function are all qualities of genius. We can become smarter! My students proved it.
Should we reconsider the value of music programs in our public school system? Chaminade still gets it, as do most private schools and affluent parents in New York City.
Did you know that Albert Einstein was quite a proficient violinist and participated in an amateur String Quartet? My wife sang for one of this Quartet’s members, as a part of the Concerts in Motion* Home Concert Program.