Simone Dinnerstein Plays Bach's Inventions

Almost any pianist, from a budding beginner to a pro like , will tell you that one of the basic techniques of keyboard playing is also the toughest to master: making your hands to do separate things simultaneously. 

The great knew this to be true. That's the primary reason he composed his Two-Part Inventions. On one hand (pardon the metaphor) they are rigorous exercises he wrote in the 1720s for the musical education of his children and students. On the other hand, as Dinnerstein told the audience at this Tiny Desk Concert, they are "an endless well of musical knowledge and imagination." Some of the Inventions zing with the speed of a sewing machine. Others dance and some unfold like a gentle aria. 

Dinnerstein learned a number of Bach's Two-Part Inventions as a youngster. Later she used them to teach her own students how to divide their brains. And now, as an adult musician with a major career, she has returned to these deceptively simple pieces, finding their complexity especially satisfying. 

She also likes the way the inventions force the player to make the piano sing. That's not easy when you consider the piano is actually a percussion instrument of wires and hammers concealed inside a box. Bach himself noted that they are good not only for playing "neatly in two parts" but also "to achieve a cantabile style of playing." That's musical jargon for playing the music in a singable style. And oh how poetically Ms. Dinnerstein makes our Tiny Desk piano sing. 

 J.S. Bach: Inventions Nos. 1, 6, 8,
J.S. Bach: Inventions Nos. 9, 10,
J.S. Bach: Inventions Nos. 12, 13, 14

4 Unusual Ways Music Can Tune Up the Brain

By Bahar Gholipour

Music shapes the brain in many ways — it can alter brain structures in musicians, and enhance cognitive skills in children and adults alike, research shows. Still, scientists are continuing to learn much about the way the brain responds to music.

Here is a look at four ways that music is known to affect the brain.

Unearthing patients' lost memories

Music has the power to bring back memories, leading some researchers to say that music could be used as a treatment for people with memory problems.

In one recent study, researchers found that music could bring back old-age memories in people who had memory problems after sustaining traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

In fact, the musical treatment, which involved playing hit songs from different periods in people's lives, was better than an interview at eliciting past memories, according to the study published in the journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation in 2013.

Other investigations have found that for people with severe memory problems as a result of Alzheimer's disease or dementia, music can affect the memory when nothing else does. The effect can sometimes be so great that experts have likened it to "awakening" a patient who has been unconscious.

Sharpening emotion-detecting skills

Musical training may turn people into better emotion detectors, some studies have suggested.

In one study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience in 2009, 30 participants watched a subtitled nature film while listening to a very short, almost undetectable clip of a baby's cry. The researchers looked at the brain's electrical waves to measure how sensitive the people were to the sound, and whether their brain's emotional circuits were evoked.

The researchers found that the musicians' brains responded more quickly and accurately than the brains of non-musicians, suggesting the musicians may be better at perceiving emotions even when music isn't being played, the researchers said.

Blocking out the noise

The aging brain normally becomes less and less capable of blocking out background noise, but people with musical training may be better than others at hearing and understanding sounds in a noisy environment as they age.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013, researchers found that even people who took music lessons only in childhood still showed some long-lasting brain effects when it comes to detecting sounds amid a noisy background.

Noteworthy: Learning language through singing

It might help to practice a new language you're trying to learn by singing the words in the shower. Scientists recently found that when learning a new language, singing the phrases can help people learn the language better, compared with simply reading those phrases.

In the study published in the journal Memory & Cognition in 2014, researchers asked 60 adults to listen and repeat phrases in Hungarian, a language entirely foreign to the participants. Some of the participants were asked to simply repeat the phrases, some were told to repeat the phrases rhythmically, and the rest were asked to repeat the phrases by singing them.

The results showed that the participants who sang did significantly better than others in a series of Hungarian language tests.

Reposted From Live Science

Music ignites lost memories in 'good-news' film

Music has an unmatched power to bring back our pasts. But what if our memories have been lost to Alzheimer's or some other condition? Can music still work its magic?

A new film, Alive Inside, says yes. The film features the work of Dan Cohen, a New York social worker who started taking personalized iPods to people with dementia in nursing homes several years ago. Cohen's non-profit Music & Memory got a huge boost in 2012 when an early clip from the film, featuring a gentleman named Henry, became an online sensation. It has been viewed more than 10 million times at various websites, filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett says.

In the clip, Henry, then 94, is shown slumped and unresponsive in a wheelchair – until a nursing home worker places a set of headphones over his ears. Henry comes alive. He scats along with Cab Calloway and sings a soulful I'll Be Home for Christmas. The music "gives me the feeling of love, romance," he says.
Henry has since passed away, but that clip is one big reason that the Music & Memory program is in 640 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, Cohen says. He says he won't be satisfied until personalized iPods – loaded with music especially chosen for each participant – are in all 16,000 U.S. nursing homes, available to all 1.6 million residents.

"Ninety-nine percent of these people are still sitting around and doing nothing all day when they could be rocking to their music," he says.

The reasons for Cohen's passion become clear in what Rossato-Bennett dubs "the only good-news film ever made about Alzheimer's." In segment after segment, people with Alzheimer's and other conditions don the headphones, hear the music of their youths and light up. A World War II veteran named John dances in his chair as the Andrews Sisters sing Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! Another man holds his wife's hands and sings a duet of Can't Take My Eyes Off of You. An agitated woman becomes serene as she dances to strains of Schubert.

Such scenes are interspersed with comments from doctors, including the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who says, "Music has more ability to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus." Others talk about the need to reconnect with lonely, inactive and neglected elders, in and out of nursing homes.

Viewers might come away with the idea that a skillfully loaded iPod is a proven and universally effective cure for all that. In fact, the first big study of Music & Memory is just getting underway in Wisconsin, as part of a state-funded rollout in 200 nursing homes. Researchers will look at whether the approach improves social engagement and reduces agitation, anxiety and depression, say University of Wisconsin researchers Jung Kwak and Michael Brondino. The study won't focus on memory but will look at overall effects on dementia, Brondino says. One thing they know, he says, is that staffs and patients "absolutely love this program."

The program, which relies on families and aides to work with patients, should not be confused with formal music therapy delivered by professionals trained in that discipline, says Alicia Clair, professor of music education and therapy at the University of Kansas.

Still, she says, "it's a wonderful thing" for many people. Caregivers need to know, she says, that not everyone will respond and that some people can even respond negatively. A song that stirs up sadness or anger might do more harm than good, she says.

Cohen says, "This is not a cure for Alzheimer's, and this does not work for everybody." But, he says, it is something just about anyone can try – something that might open up a whole lost world.

Cohen's tips for setting up an individualized music program and for donating used iPods to the program are at

Alive Inside will open in theaters and be shown in film festivals around the country through mid-September.