Music and memory

I was intrigued to read this Guardian article about an unnamed German cellist who, in spite of contracting a virus which destroyed the parts of his brain associated with memory, is able to remember and learn new music.

Although he has forgotten the history of his own life and cannot identify anyone apart from his brother and a care worker, he can still identify scales, rhythms and intervals. He even amazed doctors with his ability to learn new music.

Maybe this goes to show that a lifetime’s repetitions of musical concepts–the 10,000+ hours of “deliberate practice” that K. Anders Ericsson has shown are necessary for attaining professional standards in any capacity–affect the brain’s synapses in ways that scientists haven’t even begun to understand fully. It makes me want to go home and re-read Oliver SacksMusicophilia, a fascinating book on related subjects.

I don’t know what it says about me that my immediate thought on finishing this article was “Well then, there’s no excuse for any lazybones undergraduates who claim to have trouble differentiating between major and minor sixths!”


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