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the Brain and the Fiddle ( What neuroscience says about learning to play the fiddle )

Posted by Roy on Wednesday, February 2, 2011

 This is an article published in the PEI Fiddler's newsletter. For more articles check out


Fiddle Shop Talk

I'm just back from a inspiring 10 days at the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention in St John's, NL. Fiddlers from Galacia, Sweden, Scotland, Ireland, the US and Canada presented workshops and concerts.  Here's some very useful information on the relationship between learning and brain and neurological function.


There is a lot of research showing that learning to play an instrument has significant advantages for your brain development, regardless of the age at when you start learning. At an older age the process of learning a new instrument or even continuing to learn new tunes, etc. reduces the impact of aging.


Also, a few new aspects related to learning will help you learn easier and the information will be remembered for a longer period. Getting a good night’s sleep has been shown to be very important in learning new information. In fact getting a good sleep is as important as practicing.


The practicing you do should include the actual task of playing the tune as well as imagining you are playing the tune. Imagining you are playing sends the same motor and neurological signals to the brain and to the muscles as actually playing and this has been shown to significantly improve the tasks that are being learned. Give this a try as you learn a new tune. Once you have figured out the melody and which fingers you are using along with your bow movements take some time to just sit quietly and imagine playing the tune.


Do this for three or four times thru the tune and then get a good night’s sleep. Learning to sing or hum the melody before playing the tune is also a better approach to learning a new tune and you will remember it better.


For more information on these studies check out the following link which gives more details on the fascinating and functional relationship between ours brains, sleep and the learning process. PracticingandCurrentBrainResearchbyGebrian.pdf


Keep your bow rosined and the fiddle in tune. Roy Johnstone

8 comments on “the Brain and the Fiddle ( What neuroscience says about learning to play the fiddle )”

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 @6:16:22 AM

I'll comment once I find my reading glasses.

Roy Says:
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 @6:30:22 AM

sorry about the small type...i think you can enlarge it by pressing command+, at least that works on my mac or in the toolbar view at the top of the page select enlarge or zoom in

bj Says:
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 @12:16:47 PM

I can go one better. I always play a NEW tune right before I go to bed. I dream that tune all night, and pick up the fiddle first thing in the morning for around five to ten minutes, before I've even had my coffee. I always play it better in the AM. It would appear that the learning goes on all night and my brain works out any kinks, bowing issues or fingering hangups.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 @5:41:43 PM

Hey, whaddya know, it works! I can see! Okay okay, so I read the yada yada yada about brain functions and munctions and such, yet then I see an admonition at the end: "Keep your...fiddle in tune?" Hmmmm. I'm gonna have to try that and see if it helps. Thanks.

bsed55 Says:
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 @6:22:36 PM

Yeah, it worked! I learned something!

HawksEye Says:
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 @8:38:39 PM

So, Professor Harold Hill was ahead of his time! he knew it all along...

FiddleJammer Says:
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 @11:01:31 PM

I don't just imagine playing the tune. I 'pretend' to note the imaginary strings if I'm away from my fiddle. I've taken years off my actual age. :-)

boxbow Says:
Thursday, February 3, 2011 @12:25:05 PM

That fits with my (limited) experience. In general, my playing has shown improvement if I put in as little as five minutes before bolting out the door first thing in the morning, no matter how poorly I play or how clumsy my fingers are. Its largely about the brain and the attitude.

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