How Your Brain Works: One Brain, Two Sides

piano-ology-how-your-brain-works-one-brain-two-sides-featured-image-by-elisa-riva-from-pixabay Image by Elisa Riva from Pixabay

Anatomically, your brain is made of two distinct hemispheres: left and right…

But these hemispheres are far from simple mirror images of each other… They are also functionally very different in significant ways that have profound practical implications for the challenge of learning to play music.

Some distinctions between “Left Brain” and “Right Brain” modes of operation, can be summarized as follows…


Note: It is sufficient for our purposes to conceive of such brain “lateralization” figuratively, not necessarily literally.

There are other important distinctions between each hemisphere that relate to learning and performing music…

Your LEFT BRAIN likes to explain, name, define, categorize, calculate, talk, count, and rehearse.
Your RIGHT BRAIN likes to experience, imagine, feel, relate, synthesize, listen, and express spontaneously.

Your LEFT BRAIN learns by structured plans, likes to analyze wholes into parts, learns and remembers words, numbers, and facts.
Your RIGHT BRAIN learns by exploring, likes to synthesize parts into wholes, and learns and remembers in images, body movements, impressions, and relationships.

Your LEFT BRAIN is highly selective about what it pays attention to and can do only one thing at a time.
Your RIGHT BRAIN can perform many tasks at the same time.

Your LEFT BRAIN thinks about the past and future and is the home of plans, regrets, fears, worries, and criticisms.
Your RIGHT BRAIN has broad awareness that directly experiences the present moment.

In summary, each side of your brain can do things the other side cannot. And when used together they are capable of constructing an incredible quantity and variety of meaningful and transferable knowledge.

For example, this is your left brain at work…


and this is your right brain at work…


and this is both sides working together…


Relevance to Studying Music

One reason that so many people struggle with music is that they are trying to do too much with the left (logical) side of their brain. This is a particularly common problem in the “music is math” and “brain as computer” schools. You cannot play music fluently if you play only from the left side. If you want to perform with confidence and conviction, you must play in that space where logic, names, and abstract constructs cannot go. Here, for example, is something that our logical LEFT BRAINS simply cannot do or even understand, while our RIGHT BRAINS grasp it immediately and effortlessly…


We are going to experience similar places, places where words cannot go, time and time again in our study and performance of music.

Before closing, I want to be careful not to overstate things here. Do not conclude that your LEFT BRAIN is useless or that your RIGHT BRAIN is better than your left. Both sides are important and both sides are necessary. For now the takeaway is this: When we study, we want to use the side appropriate for the task at hand and to coordinate them as necessary.

learn more… Memory Fundamentals