Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

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    Can you keep a beat?

    Published September 27, 2018

    Get rhythm, and your brain will work better for you

    by Thayer Robins

    The human brain has a lot to coordinate. The grunt work is handled by some 80 billion neurons, which must work together to process and execute thought, perception, emotion, movement — basically, anything the brain is responsible for.

    Underlying this neuronal management of what we think, notice, feel, and do is the moment-to-moment processing of the input coming from our six major senses (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory, vestibular) — all of which need to be accurately synchronized.

    How does the brain manage these feats of coordination?

    Rhythm.

    The stronger, more finely tuned your innate sense of rhythm, the easier it is for your brain to handle its internal, moment-to-moment communications.

    Without rhythm, neural communication becomes a hit-or-miss affair, and everyday tasks require more time and effort. Brain noise escalates, which makes daily functioning still harder. Possible consequences are many and unique to each brain but commonly include clumsiness, social awkwardness, dropped or incomplete thoughts, and also memory and learning issues.

    Why memory? Because our brains use rhythm to make memories. To test this for yourself, simply take something difficult to memorize and make it rhythmic. For example, walk at a comfortable, steady pace and with each step (or alternate step), speak aloud one letter or word. Or if you’d rather, use a metronome or some other device that produces a comfortable, steady beat.

    Rhythm was once considered an inherited ability. But today we know that rhythm is not inherited but learned. Ideally, learning starts in utero, with the mother’s steady heartbeat, then is strengthened and enhanced during childhood through rhythmic activities and games.

    However, those who did not have opportunities to master rhythm as a child need not despair. Researchers and other brain pioneers have proven that rhythm can be taught or sharpened at any age, and brain performance thereby improved.

    As with anything that can be learned, rhythm can also be unlearned. This can happen for the same reason most unlearning happens: if we fail to make regular use of our rhythmic sense, our brain decides it’s not a priority and stops investing precious resources to keep it sharp.

    So if your goal is to develop an efficient brain, or if you desire to keep your brain operating at its current high level of function, regular participation in rhythmic activities should be part of your brain health plan.


    My next column will discuss the role rhythm plays in brain development and the processing of trauma. Meanwhile, here are some suggestions for strengthening your own rhythmic sense:

    Any activity that encourages steady rhythmic movement can help nourish the brain’s need for rhythm. Some examples include steady walking and running; some dancing; chanting, drumming, and most musical activities; swinging; jumping rope; or some kinds of massage. For growing kids and for adults concerned mostly with maintaining their currently strong rhythmic sense, such activities can be good options.

    Those who want to increase their brain’s rhythmic skill may need to add some more focused training. If you have someone who can work with you to train your ability to stay on beat — that’s great. If not, you’ll need a device that will do this for you.

    For most folks, the easiest option is a metronome. Lots of free metronome apps are available for both Apple and Android smart phones. You can also get free software for your desktop. Or if you’d rather, you can purchase an inexpensive physical metronome online quite easily. Whatever you choose, I’d recommend looking for one that uses a beat you can both see and hear. That’s because the more senses you use, the quicker and better your brain can learn. (If you can find a physical metronome that makes a vibration you can feel — that’s even better.)

    Once you have your metronome, set it to a comfortable pace (around 45–65 beats per minute), then do your best to stay in sync with the beat. Start by clapping, then when you’re ready to increase the challenge, make it full body by using your feet as well (for example, stepping forward with your right foot on one beat, back on the next beat, then do the same with the left foot).

    If you’re not sure how well you’re doing, or if you want to keep a record of your progress, simply record yourself doing these exercises.

    I’d suggest starting with around 1 minute per day, then gradually increasing the duration up to 10–15 minutes/day. As with all learning, small amounts every day, or several times per week, are much better than less-frequent binge sessions.

    If the above does not accomplish what you’d like, or if you simply want or need more help, you can find other options. One option, of course, would be to contact a professional. Another would be to purchase a high-end product designed for this purpose. At least two companies currently offer cognitive trainers that teach you to clap to a beat, thereby training your brain toward accurate rhythm. These tools are not cheap, but they can be quite effective.


    Thayer Robins is a staff writer at The Laney Tower. You can reach her at bavx-at-daytree.net.

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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