Pam Hutchinson draws a parallel between identifying weeds in a potato field and wowing a crowd with a drum solo.
She achieves both seemingly dissimilar but related feats at a high level as a potato cropping systems specialist at the University of Idaho Extension and as a percussionist with the Idaho State Civic Symphony and the Pocatello Municipal Band.
At the Potato Association of America’s annual meeting in Missoula, Montana on July 19, Hutchinson provided evidence in his “Repeated Measures: Music and Research” talk, supporting his belief that playing music made a better scientist.
She pointed out that research and music strengthen similar neurological pathways, improve cognitive functioning, and require the recognition of complex patterns.
Consider hairy nightshade and cutleaf nightshade – two annoying weeds for potato growers. They look very similar until you take a closer look at the leaf lobe and serration patterns. And at a quick glance, a visual representation of an advanced drum cadence looks like a high-level mathematical equation.
“Both science and music use formulas and theories to solve problems,” Hutchinson said. “Music training is similar to research: both have long-term goals and hard work to get there. In research, it takes weeks, months, years to complete an experiment before all the data is ready for analysis.
Hutchinson named his presentation “Repeated Measures” to recognize that determining the effectiveness of a weed control method often means measuring results over time. Similarly, success in playing a role in a song requires measuring and accounting for improvement over time through repeated practice.
On stage, Hutchinson must play rhythmic patterns while keeping the right rhythm. Patterns of weed control or survival in an agricultural field over time after herbicide treatment inform Hutchinson which post-emergence herbicides to apply from its arsenal of products.
“If you play a lot of music, you’re a more efficient and inventive problem solver, able to make decisions more quickly and efficiently,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson reviewed several published studies to support his conclusion.
She found research in the journal “Science,” for example, that music training increases the volume and activity of the corpus callosum, which is a bundle of more than 200 million nerve fibers connecting the right and left sides. of the brain.
She points out that drummers are known to be particularly gifted problem solvers. To defend this opinion, Hutchinson pointed to a Swedish study highlighting a correlation between the part of the brain that handles rhythmic timing and problem solving.
Study participants completed a 60-question test while playing a drum beat, and those who maintained the most steady beat also achieved the highest scores.
There are many examples of famous musicians who are also accomplished scholars. Guitarist Brian May, for example, completed a doctorate in astrophysics three decades after continuing his doctoral studies. waiting to form the rock band Queen.
Hutchinson also noticed similarities between presenting research data at a conference and performing a live concert.
“Your nerves and excitement, the elation of applause — it’s really only at a conference or a concert that you, as a musician or a scientist, can share what you’re working on,” Hutchinson said. .
Hutchinson previously gave a similar presentation to the Western Society of Weed Science, focusing on the correlation between musical and scientific acuity. She expanded it to cover the similarities of repeated measures for music and research a few months ago.
Hutchinson began drum and piano lessons at age 10, often playing in competitions.
She continued to play drums in high school and joined a drum and percussion ensemble while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in agronomy at Iowa State University and a master’s degree in weed science at the University. of South Dakota State.
When she earned her promotion and tenure at the U of I, she rewarded herself by joining Pocatello’s orchestra and summer band. She is well known in southeast Idaho for wearing elaborate costumes, once dressing as a Christmas tree, to the Idaho State Civic Symphony’s annual holiday concert.
She also played solos with bands at Aberdeen High School and played with the pit orchestra in the school’s performance of “The Sound of Music”, making noises of thunder and lightning with her drums and his cymbals.
The most frequently asked question to Hutchinson after presentations on the connection between music, mathematics and research is whether people can benefit from simply listening to music.
Although Hutchinson agrees that listening to music is a fantastic activity, she explains that playing and learning music is what stimulates the brain.
“Physical play and playing music and translating what your eyes see to what your hands do is what strengthens that connection in the brain,” Hutchinson said. “It’s about measuring performance repeatedly to become a better musician and researcher.”