Building dendrites, bigger dreams and other unexpected side effects of learning to play music

It’s a little difficult to say how long I’ve been playing the cello. After all, for the first month I relied on what I could get from books and YouTube, then came two months of no cello, and finally the formal start of my lessons about a month or so (give or take) today. On the generous end, you could say I’ve been playing for a couple of months. However, since that a bulk of that time consisted of me playing around (there really is only so much you can learn from the Tube) I’m gonna just say my official start date was my first lesson – about a month ago.

All of that is to say, having attended my fourth lesson on Monday this week is officially Cecelia and my one month anniversary. So far, so good. Neither one of us has killed the other one yet, and although we’re not exactly always on the same page I take comfort in knowing that at least people can recognize songs I’m playing.

I’ve noticed a couple of things that I didn’t expect when I started playing. For one, in the last month I’ve seen an increase in the frequency and pattern of my dreams. They are both more vivid and last longer than I’ve experienced in a while. While not necessarily cello related dreams in subject or content, the overall increase is striking. I can’t say for certain that there is a definite correlation, but the fact that the increase is noticeable tells me my brain is up to something.

This brings me to dendrites. I had a grammar professor who loved to emphasize how much our dendrites were growing, especially when someone has one of those visible facial “lightbulb” moments. See, dendrites of a neuron are, to quote the folks with more expertise than I posses, “its many short, branching fibers extending from the cell body or soma. These fibers increase the surface area available for receiving incoming information.” They’re pretty plastic structures which are thought to grow when you’re learning and retract in cases like senility and heavy alcohol use. Growth is good because it enables them to form more connections with each other and other neurons. This in turn is thought to increase the ability to learn and remember new things.

Of course, that’s just what I gathered from a half-hour with Google and a couple of keywords. Now I’m curious to find out more about how music, and the language of music, affects the brain.


About Eddie

Watch what happens when you give a writer a cello.
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