When Dr. Iraj Derakhshan
, a neurologist, first approached me about wanting to share some exciting new discoveries about the brain and how it affects playing a musical instrument, I was curious, but a little intimidated. How could I possibly understand such a complex subject? Still, my interest was piqued and so I invited him over for a discussion.
Dr. D, as he likes to be called, began not with technical jargon, but illustrated his ideas with a simple test. You can do this simple test as well. The test answers these questions: Are you right or left handed? Are you sure? Want to know the truth? Try this test
The plot thickens, gentle readers. The common assumption, proposed no less by Sir Isaac Newton, is that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice versa. Derakhshan proposes that Newton’s assumption is “utterly wrong.” Listen to Dr. D's assesment of the common assumption and Newton.
In order to truly understand what Derakhshan is saying, we must first understand that only one hemisphere of the brain is in control. For 80% of the population, it is the left hemisphere which has the command center; commonly referred to as being left hemispheric.
Now, it gets tricky. In a left hemispheric person, the left hand is delayed in its actions because its connection to the left hemisphere is indirect. It must pass through the corpus callosum
– the great band of fibers uniting both hemispheres. The right hand’s connection, however, is direct. The implication of this left-handed delay for right-handed instruments like piano, violin and even percussion instruments is compelling. Dr. D explains
Right-handers rule, but some of them may be fooling themselves; even for a lifetime! Also, what hand you favor may have more to do with a favorite aunt than Mother Nature. Are you being fooled?
Why are we so right-handed? Nature has decided this for us with an almost cruel deterimination
Lefties have long been suspect. The Bible is full of implications that the left hand is the metaphorical opposite of goodness, righteousness, etc. In fact, the term for left-handedness is sinistrality from the Latin sinistr-, sinister on the left side, unlucky, inauspicious. Dr. D. dispels myths about handedness
Ambidexterity is a myth, as Dr. D says, as there is “no wiring for it.” Also, some of you lefties are faking your way through a right-handed world.
Why was I not born with the same gifts as Horowitz? The answer is simple: I am not made to be so. As much as we would like to believe “all men are created equal,” Derakhshan knows that we are not. Still, the phrase “practice makes perfect” has a neural basis and a directive that we must fulfill our potential. Dr. D explains this disparity
With practice comes a caveat: do not overdo it or consequences can follow. Repetitive practice injuries can include carpel tunnel syndrome, dystonia
, and clonus
. Dr. D shares his thoughts on this issue
Classical musicians, not normally thought of as part of the “drug” culture of rock and popular music, will use Inderal to calm their nerves. This has caused some controversy, so I asked Dr. D his thoughts on the matter
To conclude, it’s really a no-brainer. The brain is a miracle and at the top of nature’s creations. Even neurologists like Dr. Derakhshan believe that we are just now beginning to understand the brain and its functions. References:
Vernon reference: Early analyses of Duo-art (player piano) rolls indicated that pianists played tones comprising the melodic voice sooner than other tones notated as simultaneous.
Vernon, L. N. (1936). Synchronization of chords in artistic piano music. In C.E. Seashore (ed.) Objective analysis of musical performance. University of Iowa studies in the psychology of music Vol. 5, (pp 306-345), Iowa City: University of Iowa press.