This is Cool: Rhythm and the Brain

Posted by Brian on 8th June 2011 in Book Review, General Music, Music Theory

As the result of a recommendation from an internet acquaintance, I’ve been reading and enjoying “Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy – How Music Captures Our Imaginations” by Robert Jourdain. It has been a wonderful read so far. (It’s out of print, but I was able to get it through AbeBooks.com)

I’ve just finished reading the chapter on rhythm and it discusses how our sense of rhythm is predominantly seated in the left half of our brains and provides a neat experiment that you can try: With your left hand, tap out a continuous 1-2-3-4 beat. Now with your right hand tap out a more complex beat. It doesn’t have to be wildly more complex, a relatively simple 1-2&3-4 will do just fine. Most people can do this with very little difficulty. Now, switch hands. Tap out the steady beat with the right hand and the complex rhythm with the left. Much harder, isn’t it? Now, I knew from experience that this would be the case, but I had always assumed that this was because I am right-handed (i.e. left-brain dominant), but apparently, this is the case whether your are left- or right-handed. (Assuming that you have typical brain lateralization – left-brain dominance resulting in right-handedness and vice-versa – which, apparently, not everyone does.) This would explain why so many left-handed people play guitar right handed, the right hand (picking hand) being naturally better at producing complex rhythms.

Try it out and let me know the results – especially you southpaws out there! (And if you’re a left-handed guitarist, let me know if you play right- or left-handed, too!)

Comments are closed.