harp and the brain

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    Does playing the harp enhance the memory and logical/mathematical/scientific parts of the brain? It seems to be good for memory, at least I know I really have to stretch my abilities to memorize since I like playing without the sheet in front of me, and I don’t understand how pedal harpists can play all those notes (like pianists) without mathematical ability. So I wonder, are people drawn to the harp because they are already good at memory and math, sciences, or, does playing the harp improve the brain in these areas (maybe a little of both?) Does anyone know of any studies done? What are your thoughts and experiences?

    Personally I think it does improve my memory and I hope keep my mind young and well exercised so I hope it prevents memory loss as I age. I think it’s also good for arthritis which is a little off topic, but other than emotional/spiritual healing which is what everyone associates with the harp, I think there are many other health benefits. Something I struggle with is I’m mentally exhausted after work, so I generally play much more on days off or on less stressful days, but I think when I retire it will fill my need to keep mentally active.


    Interesting post.
    Math and science are languages I do not understand. I wonder why anyone would associate those with music.

    I’ve played pedal harp for many decades. My personal rep is all memorized (see my website for lists). I use a free left hand for all but the Ave Maria and the Jesu, joy, which are harp arrangements.

    I play “all those notes” when I play opera, orchestra or band parts.
    I admire people who can just read off the music and play it…I have to work at it a long time.


    FWIW, I don’t know many musicians who are hobby scientists (amateur astronomers and the like), but when I was in my graduate program for physics, there were tons of very high-level musicians in the department — and I mean classically trained who could play at a high level. And among each graduate class, there were always enough amateur musicians to make a fairly good “guitarists-and-keyboards” band. The last salon I went to was an impromptu one at the home of one of my old math professors. And it’s old hat that there are always a ton of musicians working at any of the NASA research locations (JPL, Johnson, Ames, etc.), and tons of musician-astronauts.

    So I don’t know if music and science are always found together, but at least where science is found, music is invariably found as well. The reverse doesn’t seem to be the case, though.


    I think I was off-base with math and music, it seems like math trying to work out the timing with both hands doing different very intricate things.

    Sounds like people who love science usually also love music but people who love music don’t always like science. Science studies life and music expresses it (non-verbally).


    Deb, there is a recent movie “alive inside” that documents how recent evidence proves that music helps those with dementia or Alzheimers.I will try to paste below what a famous neurologist said after viewing the movie:

    Oliver Sacks, world renowned neurologist and author of Musicophilia (a recent book about music and the brain), was interviewed in the film and he explains that one of the last areas of the brain to be affected in patients with Alzheimer’s and similar types of dementia is the part of the brain that processes music. The key, Sacks reminds us, is that the music usually must be music they are familiar with – music they have known and loved. While Sacks is a welcome addition to the film, the seemingly miraculous transformations we witness demonstrate the power of music better than any neurologist or brain scan ever could.


    interesting Patricia, that one of the last areas of the brain affected in Alzheimer’s is music. If the pathways to remember songs are more ingrained in our memory, then maybe playing an instrument does combat memory loss (to some extent). I know it’s a stretch, but unfortunately I am not one of the scientist/musicians that could actually do a study to see if there’s any positive effect of playing an instrument, especially one as memory intensive as the harp. Although I found cello very memory intensive too but in a different way (recalling where each note lies without frets), and probably all musical instruments involve memory so I would assume any positive benefit would apply to playing any instrument seriously and regularly over time.

    Sylvia, I’ve grown quite lax and like my sparse lever harp music without ‘all those notes’. Figuring out the timing feels like math to me (not my favorite subject).


    Many pupils do not succeed with the harp because they don’t commit to engaging their memory when learning a piece either to get through tricky bits which are too busy to read off the page during a performance, or to use their memory well enough to achieve a reliable and repeatable performance. Orchestral harp require cramming of the really tricky bits, so you need time and good planning.
    The harp requires many memory triggers to play intermediate and advanced repertoire but even elementary stuff is difficult for new learners. For myself what’s most annoying is how unreliable the memory can be when performing, however the instance something goes wrong the player spots or hears their own mistake, their memory is there, but the recall wasn’t accurate enough to avoid errors. How can this be managed ?
    When I was young my parents and indeed school played and trained my memory with all kinds of games and songs and poetry, but we see fewer of these exercises nowadays, with all the technology around. I did a drama course and at first I was the only one to learn my lines, people don’t bother much nowadays and they just use Sat-Nav to get around. Finding visual and musical patterns is the most useful thing you can do on a harp, until your aural and muscle memory owns and direct the piece.

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