How Your Brain Works: One Brain, Two Sides

Anatomically, your brain is made of two hemispheres: left and right. The science of brain lateralization (the distribution of brain functions between the left and right hemispheres) is a fascinating and complex subject, but for our purposes, we are interested only in the practical implications for learning and studying.

That said, the following comparison is intended to be taken figuratively, not necessarily literally:

how-your-brain-works-left-right-comparison

There are other important distinctions between each hemisphere that relate to learning and performing music…

  • Your LEFT BRAIN likes to explain, name, define, categorize, calculate, talk, count, and rehearse. Your RIGHT BRAIN likes to experience, imagine, feel, relate, synthesize, listen, and express spontaneously.
  • Your LEFT BRAIN learns by structured plans, likes to analyze wholes into parts, learns and remembers words, numbers, and facts. Your RIGHT BRAIN learns by exploring, likes to synthesize parts into wholes, and learns and remembers in images, body movements, impressions, and relationships.
  • Your LEFT BRAIN is highly selective about what it pays attention to and can do only one thing at a time. Your RIGHT BRAIN can perform many tasks at the same time.
  • Your LEFT BRAIN thinks about the past and future and is the home of plans, regrets, fears, worries, and criticisms. Your RIGHT BRAIN has broad awareness that directly experiences the present moment.

In summary, each side of your brain can do things the other side cannot. And when used together they are capable of constructing useful and transferable knowledge.

For example, this is your left brain at work…

piano-ology-how-your-brain-works-hemispheres-both-left-side

and this is your right brain at work…

piano-ology-how-your-brain-works-hemispheres-both-right-side

and this is both sides working together…

piano-ology-how-your-brain-works-hemispheres-both-workgin-together

Relevance to Studying Music

One reason that so many people struggle with music is that they are trying to do too much with the left (logical) side of their brain. This is a particularly common problem in the “music is math” and “brain as computer” schools. You cannot play music fluently if you play only from the left side. In order too perform with confidence and conviction… you must include playing in a space where logic, names, and abstract constructs cannot go. Here, for example, is something that our logical LEFT BRAINS simply cannot do or even understand…

piano-ology-how-your-brain-works-hemispheres-something-left-side-cannot-do

We are going to experience similar places where words cannot go time and time again in our study and performance of music.

Before closing, I want to be careful not to overstate things here.  Do not conclude that your LEFT BRAIN is useless or that your RIGHT BRAIN is better than your left.  Both sides are important and both sides are necessary. The takeaway is this: When we study, we want to use the side appropriate for the task at hand and to coordinate them as necessary.

LEARN MORE… Memory Fundamentals

About Frank J Peter

A uniquely burdened and blessed citizen of the world thinking and acting out loud!
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