How music can make you work smarter
Neuroscientists have found that learning a musical instrument helps our brains to function more effectively. We met with some of the regulars on the School’s first Ukulele club to find if playing music together has benefited them.
Uke club members: Steve Russell, Rachel Harper, Kathy Brewis, Miriam O'Regan and Jim Haake
How did the Ukulele club start?
SR: I’ve been playing the ukulele for a year now and become increasingly addicted to it. I wanted to get my colleagues together to make music and to encourage ukulelists (thats the correct term) of all levels. We meet roughly weekly and are building up a repertoire based on what people want to play. We also make monthly trips to Ukulele Wednesdays at the nearby Albany pub.
There’s much more to the ukulele than George Formby (who actually played the banjolele - the strident love child of the ukulele and banjo); check out The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, James Hill, Jake Shimabukuro, George Harrison, Joe Brown, Cliff Edwards.
RH: Steve is the driving force behind Ukulele club. His natural enthusiasm for ukuleles spilled over and he encouraged the rest of us to get involved. He even helped me pick out a uke!
KB: Steve gave a memorable presentation at a team meeting in which he said his big dream for this place was a ukulele group (not the only dream, I’m sure)
JH: I think you’d have to ask Steve how it started, Jenny Graham in Advancement invited me along to one of the Ukulele Wednesdays at the Albany in Great Portland Street and I carried on from there!
MO: The LBS Ukelele club was founded by the wonderful Steve Russell. Steve is uniting people from across the school to come together and join our group.
How would you describe your musical ability?
SR: We range from complete beginners to very proficient.
RH: I would describe myself as musical but lazy – so it’s great to have an opportunity presented to play during a lunchtime.
JH: I’d say I’m reasonably good at the ukulele, I played guitar for many years so it’s pretty much the same but smaller and more jaunty. Before that I played euphonium in a brass band up in Yorkshire like a proper Northern lad.
KB: Keen but rusty
MO: I’m a basic beginner and only started 2 months ago. I played piano for 5 years but this is different as it’s an applied learning style in a group setting. Steve’s sessions provide a more enhanced learning experience as oppose to the tradition way of learning music through lessons, theory and exams.
It’s great as it’s applied learning. Steve shares the songs in advance for you to practice. Then, he hosts lunchtime session in a tutorial style. He explains the chords and we play along to the lyrics as oppose to reading a musical manuscript. We play contemporary songs from Psycho Killer, California Dreaming, Hallelujah and Jolene.
What benefits, if any, have you noticed since joining the club?
SR: I’m less embarrassed about singing in public – although I’m not sure that’s a benefit for those that hear me.
Playing the uke makes you cool and immensely popular.
Some believe that it can make you more successful. Even if you play like Warren Buffet
RH: It definitely reduces stress and promotes happiness/ wellbeing. It’s joyful!
KB: It’s a fun change of gear in the middle of the day. I’m considering communicating by ukulele alone from now on
JH: There’s something about playing music with other people that’s just very relaxing and satisfying, it’s a great distraction from work. And I definitely feel more musical since I started!
MO: From a social perspective, it’s fantastic, meeting new people and engaging with those from outside MarComms and also going on social ukulele nights out.
It’s also a great opportunity to learn a new skill but to engage in a fun social activity also. For me, I think it’s a great mindfulness session as it gets you away from your desk as it focusses your mind in terms of memory, coordination and your comprehension skills.
How can people get involved?
JH: All people have to do to get involved is to pick up a uke and come along to our jam on Wednesday lunchtimes or monthly ukulele pub trips, no experience necessary!
MO: Come and join us! You really do not need any musical experience. Simply buy a ukulele and join us for lunch time sessions every Wednesday in Lorne Close. Ukes start from £30 (in Argos) so it’s really cheap. I bought mine at Ivor Mairants by Tottenham Court Rd. Ask Steve Russel for any advice and tips.
KB: Buy a cheap ukulele and come along, don’t be shy
SR: You can find tips on choosing a first ukulele at
If you have a ukulele playing friend (or colleague) get them to take you to a music shop and try some out.
Got a ukulele or thinking of getting one and want to play with us in a supportive environment? Please get in touch with me.
How playing an instrument benefits your brain - Anita Collins
When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What's going on?
Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians' brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.
>>Watch the lesson by Anita Collins, animation by Sharon Colman Graham