Training the Musical Brain
PhD, University of California, Los Angeles
MM, San Francisco Conservatory of Music
BS, University of Toronto
Opera on Tap: San Francisco
Awards and Distinctions
Dissertation Prize at UCLA
Grant Winner, Germanacos Foundation for work on Music and Empathy
What is your hometown?
Toronto, ON, Canada
What is your favorite recording?
“Beethoven: Late Quartets” by Quartetto Italiano.
What are you passionate about outside of music?
Who were your major teachers?
What is a favorite quote that you repeatedly tell students?
“Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong.”
What question do you wish students would ask sooner rather than later?
“How can I improve my practice time?”
What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue music as a career?
When I performed as an altar boy in Tosca at the Canadian Opera Company at age 11.
What was a turning point in your career?
When I realized how little science was being applied in musical training.
If you weren't a musician or teacher, what do you think you would be doing now?
I’d likely be a physician.
What is your daily practice routine?
I set some learning goals, and organize them in terms of long and short term time periods, then figure out what I need to accomplish in the time I have. I start with some fundamentals, then I take a varied approach to practicing exercises and repertoire. I also direct my attention to different types of feedback, from sound, to feelings, to more objective measures like a metronome or a recording. Finally, I allow myself some time to just enjoy singing for fun whenever I practice.
If you could play only three composers for the rest of your life, who would they be?
Mozart, Beethoven, and U2.
From a music history perspective, what year and city are most important to you?
What are your most important collaborations?
Daniel Felsenfeld (NYC-based composer), Dana Sadava (Pasadena Opera), and Deborah Aschheim (visual artist).
Who are three students you have had the privilege of teaching?
Lara Mitofsky-Neuss, Jessie Neilson, and Ryder Fitzpatrick.
What are some selections from your academic publications?
The creation of art in the setting of dementia, In Art, Aesthetics, and the Brain, 2015
Tracking the eyes to study the brain, American Scientist, 2015
Art and dementia: how degeneration of some brain regions can lead to new creative impulses. In Neuroscience of creativity, 2013
What is your unrealized project?
A nonfiction book on music and the brain.
Music for Every Child: a special report for parents, educators, community organizers, policy-makers and citizens of the world, aggregates existing research to codify and clarify the precise impacts music education has on developing minds, from improving skills like planning and following instructions to building stronger neuroplasticity and providing a quantifiably significant incentive for children at risk for dropping out to remain in school.
Professor Indre Viskontas is a musician and a cognitive neuroscientist. She is affectionately known as Dr. Dre by her students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is pioneering the application of neuroscience to musical training, and at the University of San Francisco, where she is an Assistant Professor of Psychology. She received a BSc in psychology and French literature from the University of Toronto, an MM degree in vocal performance from SFCM and a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA. Dr. Viskontas has published more than 50 scientific articles and chapters related to the neural basis of memory and creativity, including several in top scientific journals. Her book, How Music Can Make You Better, was published by Chronicle in 2019. Her two 24-lecture courses, Essential Scientific Concepts and Brain Myths Exploded have been released by The Great Courses, and are among the top nonfiction titles on Audible.com. She is also the Creative Director of Pasadena Opera, where she most recently directed The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, a chamber opera based on the case study written by Oliver Sacks. She also co-hosted the docuseries Miracle Detectives on the Oprah Winfrey Network, and Science in Progress on several streaming channels and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, major radio stations across the US, and several other television programs. She is also the host of the popular podcasts Inquiring Minds, with more than 7 million downloads, and Cadence: what music tells us about the mind.