Meet Max Myelin. He is a character in my book Practice or Talent? based on my own English Bull Terrier Max. I created him to help explain to my students and readers how important practice is.
Excerpt taken from Practice or Talent? What makes us musical?
Chapter 5 – The Brain, page 20/21
Myelin is a white fatty matter that wraps around our nerve fibres speeding up the conduction of the electrical impulses. The myelination means that connections are made more quickly, just like faster broadband connections or travelling on a motorway as opposed to country lanes.
As we learn something or practise our musical instrument, the connections between the neurons for that particular activity get better at ‘talking’ to / connecting with each other, the more we repeat the activity. That is why we get better at doing a certain activity by repetition or practice. There can be several reasons for this –
A -The synapses become stronger and eventually permanent
B – Additional synapses form
C – More myelin is created, generating quicker electrical signals.
Some scientists believe that physiological changes take place in the brain during repetitive practice, hence it’s importance. Playing a piece of music over and over again means that the same messages will be going along the same nerves, creating layer upon layer of myelin, which in turn makes the connections quicker and stronger. This is why the more we practice the better we get. Beware, though, if you are playing anything incorrectly. Any mistakes will become myelinated as well, as the brain doesn’t know right from wrong.
Why did I choose Max? Well, I have 2 dogs, Sam a 3 year old black Labrador that sings during music lessons and Max my 11 year old English Bull Terrier who is a real softie, everyone’s favourite and sits in on lessons. Max is white like myelin and also makes connections quicker over time, i.e. every week when he meets a student he is making a stronger bond with them.
Max Myelin is a great reminder about the importance of practice and not only that but correct practice, as otherwise those errors will be myelinated too!!
Max Myelin is created by Jan Sherwood of The Creativity Box and is not for reproduction or copying.