An Assumption about Habits and the Human Brain

by: Raine

I’ve always been fascinated by the human brain’s ability to run an extremely complex organic system as well as control thought, reasoning, and emotions (blah, blah, blah…). I honestly don’t know much about the brain save what I learned in college and a few seminars in grad school. (How much of that do I ACTUALLY remember? Heehee…) But what I do know was that yesterday, my own brain blew my mind.

I was driving to a student’s house and at a red light I decided to try out a rhythm I was considering for a song I’m arranging. I beat both hands on the steering wheel like one would a conga drum – it’s a rather flat hand position. I am no percussionist so I was having a hard time of it. The rhythm was rather complex, essentially pitting two notes per beat against three notes per beat. I just couldn’t get it! (I also had someone honk at me when the light changed to green.)

I drove to my student’s house and got there five minutes early. Again, my wheel became my drum but I just couldn’t get the rhythm!!! RAWR! My hands couldn’t work independently. Why wasn’t I a percussionist in another life?  Why?! I felt like a three year-old who’d been asked to pat his head and rub his belly – it wasn’t gonna happen. There aren’t too many fine motor skills at that age, nor, apparently, at mine.

Then I decided to pretend I was playing the piano because then I would only be using my dexterous fingers rather than my clumsy hand.

EUREKA! Angels started singing. My hands were inspired. The rhythm was perfect!

Again, WTF?! How the hell did THAT happen? I was doing the exact same this with an open hand as with my fingers, but the fingers kicked my open hands’ ass.

Tangent: I started playing the piano when I was six and gave up lessons when I chose cello as my primary instrument. I was never a fabulous pianist, but I could put together songs and pieces I liked and reduce harder scores for my enjoyment and arranging needs. That said…

Back on topic: Where was I? Ah yes, my fingers turning my hands to a blubbering pile of ashamed goo on the floor. How the hell did THAT happen?

And then it hit me.

For twelve years I trained my hands to work independently as well as together in order to make music on the piano. My brain had developed pathways from Raine Central to her fingertips. These pathways were accustomed to complex rhythms and allowing each hand to work independently without following each other.

I had activated a tried and true pathway when I switched from conga hands to piano hands. My conga hands had no previous experience in my brain so the poor things had no idea what to do. What a subtle difference!

To a scientist, perhaps this is old news. But for me, in that moment, it was a revelation. Those moments are few and far between. I was so excited I couldn’t make myself go into my student’s house to teach – I called the only other person who was nerdy enough to get excited with me.

Mom.

My mother and I are so alike that it’s scary. When I told her about my revelation, she flipped out and we spent a few minutes ooh-ing and aah-ing together.

Then I had to teach. (Grr!) But I was so jazzed that the lesson was phenomenal. (Yay!)

Now, readers, if any of you are scientifically inclined, please explain this phenomenon to me. Because it rocked my world.

I’ve got the brain of a four year-old. I’ll bet he was glad to be rid of it. – Groucho Marx.

End Rant 4.

Musical crack to make your brain light up.

From the 2010 T-Drama Autumn’s Concerto starring Vanness Wu and Ady An:

“All for Love”Victor Huang

21 thoughts on “An Assumption about Habits and the Human Brain

  1. Hottie says:

    Hi Raine, I like the way your blog is becoming like a cosy corner for friends to drop in and have tea (or coffee depending on which side of the Atlantic they hail from).

    They are all clever people. Ranging from bionic ( isn’t that what you call people who studied Biology?) to sit down comic (I reckon nobody stands up telling jokes in your blog) to your favourite nerd who passed you her genes.

    And how is it some are born with conga hands while others are blessed with piano hands. And me? I was born with butter fingers. And we are not talking about food.

    I wish I have the brains to answer you how it works.

    • Raine says:

      Hottie, welcome to the cosy corner! This is an environment for k-drama lovers to express everything and make friends and find companionship! It’s awesome. I really love the people I’ve met through it.

      I totally rock the rhythm now by the way. Everytime I listen to the song, I beat along to it. Actually, the other day I was driving with the windows down (the weather is stunning in Miami right now) and these two guys next to me were just staring. I was sort of dancing AND the lyrics were in Korean…haha they were probably like WTF mate!

      • Hottie says:

        Haha! Raine. Here I am , sitting thousands of miles away from Miami, infront of my computer and imaging a sweet young thing being oggled at by two hunks !

        You are really funny. I love your spirit and zest for living.

        I thought I am bad enough, being totally obsessed with K drama and K pop when I don’t understand a word of it.Infact, I am so clueless, I have difficulty differentiating Korean from Japanese. As long as I don’t hear “saranghae” or ” arigato gozymas”, Korean or Japanese sounds the same to me. That’s how pathetic I am.

        • Raine says:

          Haha! Raine. Here I am , sitting thousands of miles away from Miami, infront of my computer and imaging a sweet young thing being oggled at by two hunks !

          You are really funny. I love your spirit and zest for living.

          I thought I am bad enough, being totally obsessed with K drama and K pop when I don’t understand a word of it.Infact, I am so clueless, I have difficulty differentiating Korean from Japanese. As long as I don’t hear “saranghae” or ” arigato gozymas”, Korean or Japanese sounds the same to me. That’s how pathetic I am.

          Hottie – Yes, it was quite an experience. I was wearing make up and had done my hair and was coming home from a gig. (I had played a tune with a jazz band on S. Beach.)

          I’m glad you think I’m funny. I keep saying it, but humor is ridiculously hard. I admire Dave Barry. He’s my humor Hero. And George Carlin. RIP baby.

          As for languages, I think its the music, but I can tell most Asian languages apart. I’m learning Japanese so that attunes my ear to it, but I’m so inclined towards sound anyway I’m sure that has something to do with it.

          A way to tell the difference is the vowel versus consonant ratio. When you’re listening, Korean is super sing songy and mostly ends in vowels that are stretched. Its a very open sounding language Japanese is much more staccato and consonant based with tighter, shorter vowels. And…that sounded like a music analysis. 😛

  2. Becoming Bitter says:

    Oh Ranting Cello – I added 2 images to the side panel of my blog. Check them out. Let me know if they sort of match the picture of me in your mind. What can I say you inspired me.

  3. Raine says:

    I was a psych major in school (and dropped it to minor once I figured out I’d have to stay in a private school to finish it for only 2 classes…) so I once knew all this stuff. It makes perfect sense. Chongmal Kumawa!

    BTW, BS and BM (Bachelor’s of Science and Bachelor’s of Music) are just bad abbreviations. I have a BM…and an MM. That one doesn’t sound too bad, right?

    • Becoming Bitter says:

      Ranting Cello… you amuse me. You should read Oliver Sacks’s “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat” – now that book has some amazing phenomenons in them.That’s awesome that you’ve already gotten your masters. I do have plans to go to graduate or professional school, but I’m just taking a break. The scientific field is competitive like hell. Science majors and graduates are quite vicious. I’m sure the music field is competitive too. You have to be the best of the best to get noticed I’m sure. Like I’ve commented earlier – I’m more of an appreciator of the arts and music. Can’t play anything to save my life. Waiting for more of your musical posts. Oh yeah don’t forget – my musical intelligence is zero.

      • Raine says:

        Workin’ on your video now…I forgot I have double gigs today so its getting worked on at around 11 tonight! I will have to edit in case I get too ‘music-y’. I even worried about what I wrote in this one. Haha. I can’t tell if duple versus triple meter makes sense to anyone outside of music or not.

        I love Oliver Sacks. We may have that lying around. I’ll have to ask.

        Yes, music is competitive but I chose the more underground route rather than full-on classical. My heart lies with classical, but, alas, you have to be a child prodigy to go anywhere.

        If I had to choose a non artsy field it would be science for sure. So I kowtow to you for you scientific prowess.

        Please appreciate away! The arts love your attention.

        • Becoming Bitter says:

          Oh don’t over work yourself! I’m sure my musical appreciation side can wait. To tell you the truth I just google musical terms I don’t understand. I love Oliver Sacks too! Ranting Cello – the passion that pours through each post of yours for music is more than enough to make you qualified to go anywhere. In my books at least. Science is something that I love, live, and breathe everyday. Of course in an alternate universe you would find me in a rock band. I’m always here to appreciate, but take care of yourself Ranting Cello.

          • Raine says:

            Yay! I’m alive. After 12 hours of working. *phew* I don’t do squat during the day but after 3pm its “go” time.

            Sanx my 14th century secret Bitter candy friend!

            If you post about your love of Science, I’m totally going to write a huge comment! 😀

            • Becoming Bitter says:

              Yeah then everyone, but you and Villager will unsubscribe. I’m good though. I want to share my stories with people and make them laugh. Laughing or smiling muggles make me happy. I might do something a bit science related – like maybe talk about a parasite or something and add my humor to it. Maybe…
              Stay alive because I still have more requests.

            • Raine says:

              Oooh a parasite. You know what totally grosses me out? Chiggers. Next Halloween, you should write about them. *SHUDDER*

              Please make me laugh. Me likes laughing. Even at rehearsal tonight, everyone was so serious and I was cracking jokes (at appropriate times of course). People think I’m not serious about what I’m doing. But when push comes to shove, just ’cause I smile doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing. I just don’t like to act like I have a stick up my ass….

              Or you can write a post about ACTUAL sticks…

              (Did you see I put the Immortals in my upcoming section just for you?)

            • Becoming Bitter says:

              Chiggers eh? Hmm… okay. Next Halloween I’ll add that. You’ll have to remind me though. You’re doing the right thing – I agree. I pass on actual sticks. Now stick looking people I can talk about. Yes, I just saw it now. Once again no need to rush, but I’m eagerly waiting. *Smiles that 14th century smile*

            • Raine says:

              Guh, even reading the word chiggers creeps me out.

              This is my only time on today! I so sad but my aunt is really ill and my family has been in full operational mode to move her to Miami.

            • Becoming Bitter says:

              Oh my! I hope your aunt gets better Ranting Cello. I’m sure she will with family and friends praying for her health.
              I still believe that good things happen to good people. Do I even need to bother adding that you’re a good person in my books.

              By the way – new post out and it’s an opportunity for you and Villager to get new people to visit your blog (like minded people I should add).

  4. Becoming Bitter says:

    I have a BS in Biology so I’ve taken classes related to and on this subject. Please don’t ask me to spew scientific info. Neurobiology is a complex subject. There are a lot of things scientists don’t understand about the brain. Yes, you have essentially trained your mind – your fingers to work a certain way. When we don’t use a certain pathway or we attempt to do something new it will be difficult. Why? Because those pathways aren’t established. The neurons that comprise those pathways do not “fire” as well or in coordination with other neurons. The more you use the pathway, the more engrained it will be. I don’t know if this explanation helped somewhat or not, but it’s not exactly easy for me to explain it to a non-science person.

    • thejawavillager says:

      Whoa. We have Bitter, the science person, Raine, the music person, MadDino, the tech person….What am I?
      And Raine, in response to your question, I was thinking…practice makes perfect? Howzzat for complex science?
      And as useless I am at answering questions I absolutely LOVED this post.
      ‘I called the only other person who was nerdy enough to get excited with me.Mom.’
      love your choice of images, especially the brain-exploding one.

      • Becoming Bitter says:

        Villager you are… a beautiful, insane, and funny death eater. You always wanted to be a part of the magical community right? Well… I’m telling you now. You are!

      • Raine says:

        Villager – You are indeed a funny gal. You can be our comedic addition to the k-drama addicts collection of skill sets. JoAnne unni is our world travelor (and expert in men and hormones :P)

        I actually showed my mom this post and then she subscribed to my blog and told me all day how much she loved it. The small things get ’em. 😀

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