The Brain and Guitar

Posted: January 31, 2011 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 3.07.53 PMIn addition to playing guitar I also a ski. Last Saturday I was skiing backwards pretty fast and the snow was hard and icy… then my ski binding broke. I guess I can’t ski backwards on one ski, so, I fell backwards on that hard snow and hit my head. Even though I wear a helmet, when I got up I had amnesia, I couldn’t remember much. I’d just had lunch and I couldn’t remember that, I didn’t remember where my car was, or even if I had a car.

For some reason though, I knew to call my wife on my cell phone. She was on the other side of the mountain and she got to me quickly. Three years ago, I was knocked out for about 5 minutes after a ski crash. I was in bad shape that time and ended up going to the hospital. My brain was so injured, it took me weeks before I was able to play guitar. Fortunately last Saturday my memory started coming back after about 15 minutes, I’m so thankful for that. I’ll tell you though, it was really strange and I don’t wish it on anyone!

This brings me to my point; I played a gig that Saturday after hitting my head and I was able to play all the notes, which shows I’m probably okay. I’ve heard doctors say that playing a musical instrument is a very good brain test because it takes so much brain work.

I remember back in the 80s the great jazz and session guitarist, Howard Roberts, told me about a study at UCLA that looked at brain wave patterns of musicians while playing. The patterns were different than just about any other activity, they were all over the place. I’ve read about studies that show children who learn an instrument have huge learning advantages over kids who don’t learn an instrument.

After my concussion three years ago I could track my brain improvement by watching my metronome speed. One day I could play 16ths at 120 BPM, the next day I could do 125, then the next at 130 an on and on. The metronome was tracking my brain healing!

An interesting thing the brain can do is re-route actions to different muscles. For example, years ago I broke my right hand and the doc put it in a cast. After about a week I could play about 90% of my ability. My brain just re-routed the muscles from my wrist to my fingers and arm for my picking. Since my brain knew what to do, it figured out how to get it done.

The bottom line is playing an instrument gives you learning and thinking practice. It’s good for your brain in the same way that eating right and regular execise is good for your body. So, keep playing and learning new things and you’ll stay sharp and smart! By the way, I’m getting new ski bindings, if the new ones ever break I plan on it being on a day with soft fluffy snow, not that hard icy stuff.


  1. JOwnby says:

    Hello Paul, glad to hear that you’re ok. With your history of accidents (I’m sure you’ve heard it over and over, before) I’d say it’s about time to give up skiing, or at least be considerably more careful. Take care!

    • Paul H says:

      I can’t give up skiing, it’s like asking me to play guitar left handed (I can’t do it). But, my wife is making me ski like a girl now. Ski season is over anyway. Thanks for the comment.

  2. robertff says:

    Pat Martino had to relearn guitar after a bad stroke. your stories give hope that we all can keep playing seemingly no matter what.

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