How Rhythm Reshapes Your Brain for the Better

Have you ever tapped along to a song on the radio, learned a new type of dance, or practiced playing an instrument?

Aside from being fun, each of these activities has something else in common: They all build and strengthen your brain.

This brain-building effect happens as a result of your brain’s natural neuroplasticity—the physical changes that occur in your brain, based on how it interacts with your environment.

That’s right… your brain changes.

Over the past three decades, scientists have discovered that it’s not as “fixed” as we initially thought. In fact, studies have shown that your brain can form new connections, as well as rewire and even repair itself.

Neuroplasticity is a lifetime process—and it’s essential to your well-being. Your brain is constantly changing, reorganizing, and growing to help you better adapt and respond to your experiences.

The bottom line is you have the power to alter your own brain. And using rhythm is a perfect way to do this.

Rhythm builds a bigger, better brain

One of my favorite strategies to improve neuroplasticity is drumming.

Whether it’s with an instrument, on a hard surface, or even on your own lap, drumming is a prime example of the kind of coordinated motor learning that strengthens your brain.

Plus, using your limbs to repeat rhythms also helps you to improve your brain’s functional connectivity. In other words, this type of repetition gets the different parts of your brain “talking“ with each other so you can:

  • Learn more effectively
  • Improve your memory
  • Increase your cognitive ability
  • Accomplish more complex tasks (like critical thinking and problem solving)

And the more rhythms you learn and play, the better.

That’s because the more you pair learning with body movement, the more it helps to generate new connections (also known as neural pathways) between different parts of your nervous system.

Just like practicing any new skill, these neural pathways are strengthened through regular repetition. So the more you repeat the pattern… the more ingrained the pathway gets… and the easier it becomes for you to remember it.

Neurons: Ready… aim… fire!

A second way rhythm helps to create new neural pathways is something called the Hebbian theory, which basically states that “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Based on this theory, when you engage in physical activity (like drumming or tapping) and pair it with music, you cause your neurons to simultaneously fire in the specific brain areas that control of these actions and behaviors. As a result, this strengthens your neural pathways and brain connectivity, leading to faster and more-permanent, positive changes in your brain.

Your gym-free, no-sweat brain workout

Anyone, anywhere, can use rhythm to begin sharpening their brain. And I should mention, you don’t need any musical ability or skill to gain all the benefits—just a willingness to try something new!

Are you ready to begin building your brain with rhythm?

Try this neuroplasticity exercise:

  1. Put on one of your favorite up-tempo songs. Ideally, you want to choose one that has a good steady beat.
  2. Tap along with the beat, alternating your hands for the first half of the song:

    [right – left – right – left].
  3. When you’re ready, continue to tap along with the beat and switch up your hand pattern to:

    [right – right – left – left].

    Keep that pattern going till the end of the song.
  4. Bonus step: Replay the same song, tap along to the beat, but this time use these two patterns, one right after the other:

    [right – left – left – left]
    [left – right – right -right]

  5. When you’ve finished the second phrase, go back to the first and repeat both again.

And should you miss a beat, smile and keep going!

Let me know how it goes! Feel free to drop me a line at: feedback@donovanhealth.com.

If you’re interested in more exercises or information about neuroplasticity, and other ways to help protect your brain health and cognitive function, I encourage you to check out one of my latest online learning tools, my Sound Mind Protocol. Simply click here for more information or to sign up today!

Make taking impeccable care of yourself non-negotiable.

Be well,

Jim Donovan M.Ed.



SOURCES:

Dynamic functional connectivity. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_functional_connectivity

Hötting K, Röder B. (2013). Beneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition.
Neuroscience Biobehavioral Reviews. 37(9), 2243–2257. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.04.005

Stegemoller, E., (2017, March 1). Exploring the Mechanisms of Music Therapy. The Scientist. Retrieved from: https://www.the-scientist.com/features/exploring-the-mechanisms-of-music-therapy-31936

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.