Tara Gaertner

Biography

Tara Gaertner is a neuroscientist, music educator, writer and speaker. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music from McGill University and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Texas, Houston. She has taught piano, flute, and music theory since for over twenty years and currently teaches the Music for Young Children program as well as private piano and flute lessons. She has taught neuroscience at the University of British Columbia for over ten years, and is an Adjunct Professor in the department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

With her background in neuroscience research and her experience as a music teacher, Tara is passionate about understanding how our brains process and learn music. Currently writing a book entitled Training the Musical Brain, she maintains a blog of the same name where she discusses recent research in music psychology, motor learning, the neuroscience of motivation, and other topics related to the neuroscience of music pedagogy.

Training the Musical Brain

There are a remarkable number of brain regions involved in processing and making music, so it’s not surprising to find that time and effort spent learning how to make music leads both to physical changes in the brain and improvements in the capabilities of the person who owns that brain. Tara combines relatable stories with the latest research in her blog, Training the Musical Brain, as well as in a book she is writing. Here are some examples of the topics covered.

reas of the brain that show a decrease in activity upon learning a task (from Chein and Schneider, 2005)

Brain Activity: Is Less More?

In some cases, when people learn to do something, there is more activity in their brains, and researchers say: “See, that’s because they’re using more of their brains for this!” But sometimes there is less activity, and the researchers conclude that when we are good at something, our brains are more efficient. So, which is it?

periodic_table_of_the_elements_by_fiveless

Music for Learning

The use of song as a mnemonic device is well-known and we’ve pretty much all used this technique, starting "the ABC song" to learn the alphabet. Many university students make use of songs to memorize facts; I recommend it to my neuroscience students. I even own a copy of The Biochemists’ Songbook a whole book of songs for learning metabolic pathways. Does wrapping information in music really make it easier to remember? And, if so, why?

Visual Crowding

When things are written smaller, they seem harder. Just knowing this fact helps kids understand that a new book isn’t going to be more difficult to play. But unfortunately, the smaller print does actually make this music harder for the children to read. Why is this?

Music Teaching

Tara currently teaches the Music for Young Children piano program, Music Pups classes for children 0 to 4, and private piano and flute lessons for beginner to intermediate students in southwest Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She is a classically trained pianist and flutist who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from McGill University, as well as Grade 10 piano certification from the Royal Conservatory of Music. She has taught private lessons in piano, flute, and music theory since 1988. She performs in Vancouver on flute and piano, and is a member of the Broadway Chorus musical theatre group.

Speaking

Tara has given seminars and workshops about music and the brain to both local and international audiences. Topics include:

  • The effects of musical training
  • The neuroscience of practicing
  • The neuroscience of motivation in music practice
  • The science behind reading music
  • The development of motor control