Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is the Influence of Drugs on Music?

Drugs and Music - A Complicated Relationship

In this video, Robert talks about the controversy relationship between drugs and music.

Released on June 3, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin. Today's question is, "What is the influence of drugs on music?" This is really a loaded question that's bound to gain some controversy. I'm going to try to give a balanced view of this subject which is actually very complex. If you look at the neurology of it to begin with, there's that element. There's also the cultural element. I'm going to try to give both sides of it.

Neurologically, drugs, particularly alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs, have an effect upon suppressing certain parts of the brain. Right brain, left brain. The right brain is noted for its creative element, and the left side tends to be the logical. This is a simplistic view of the brain certainly, and there's many different sections of the brain. Different drugs act on different parts of it. While some people enjoy being able to suppress certain parts of their brain to bring out others, even for the enjoyment of listening to music.

What about the whole cultural aspect of this? It goes very deep. Really, one of the pioneers of bebop jazz, legendary Charlie 'Bird' Parker, he was absolutely a phenomenal musician. Many people wanted to emulate him and he was a drug addict. It ushered in a whole bunch of people. To this day in the rock field, many people do drugs. The Beatles of course, glorified the whole sex, drugs, rock and roll liberation movement so part of it is cultural. If you go back to the early jazz days, black people were a permanent underclass. Working in the clubs was a really rough life. This could've added to it as well. It's a very complex issue.

The question really comes down to are there any benefits to the use of drugs in music. To this question, yes, there could be for some people. There's always an upside and a downside. Some people will actually lose inhibitions for improvised music. For example, it could be beneficial to let go and just let the music go without quantifying with that left brain analysis. Some artists believe that it aids in their creativity. Of course, the balance of utilizing substances that can have deleterious effects over time has to be very well thought out. As you well know, there are many great musicians who suffered tragic losses and death due to drug use.

This is not a simple yes or no question. After all, lots of people love to listen to music or play while having a couple of beers. Alcohol, after all, is a drug. It's all a matter of balance. If you find that you can use drugs like alcohol, pot, and maybe even some people use harder drugs and have great things to share with their music. This is a reality that can not be denied. Whether you've deemed this to be good or bad is a personal choice.

That's the long and short of it. I'd love to hear from you, positive or negative experiences that you've had or that you know of others who have had. I'm sure this is bound to elicit very powerful responses, because this is not a simple subject. I hope this has been enlightening for you and look forward to hearing from all of you here at and Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Lynn Tilton * VSM MEMBER * on March 22, 2018 @8:51 pm PST
Since I've never drunk coffee, colas or other beverages with caffein I don't know what I'm missing. But when I'm calorie-deficient I can't concentrate sufficiently to learn a new piece on my 1906 restored Chickering baby grand. Naturally, when I'm talking calores I'm referring to healthy calories not mac/cheese types of instant food. The biggest facor in health comes from my wife's food prep savvy preparation of food duing the past 52 years we've been around.
Robert Estrin - host, on March 24, 2018 @10:34 am PST
It's quite amazing that there are some musicians on the highest level who are in terrible physical condition. But like anything else in life, feeling good and being healthy can't hurt your playing! * VSM MEMBER * on March 21, 2018 @8:06 am PST
You didn't mention the world's most popular drug--caffeine. What would we do without it?
Robert Estrin - host, on March 22, 2018 @1:14 pm PST
As I sit here responding to many questions about pianos, I sip my dark roast coffee and couldn't agree more!
Lynn Tilton * VSM MEMBER * on March 21, 2018 @7:13 am PST
One of the milder addictions is sugar, that can lead to diabetes. People have lost toes, even legs to this addiction. Such loss can put amen on your ability to play piano.
True, you may not lose body parts when using stronger drugs, but those addictions bring on neurological problems. (They also carry a higher incarceration rate.)
Robert Estrin - host, on March 22, 2018 @6:40 pm PST
There is a balance you must reach between enjoyment and indulgence whatever the substance or activity. You must weigh risk versus benefit. Ultimately, it's the things you do every day that make the difference in your life.
Brenda * VSM MEMBER * on March 21, 2018 @6:31 am PST
The word "drugs" encompasses a huge variety of substances. And its effects on individuals is complex. As with any use of substances to control deficiencies that each of us have, in my opinion a professional really should be involved in the decision-making. In my own case it wasn't until after I completed all of the Conservatory exams that my doctor recommended beta-blockers. If only I had know beforehand!! The question about using these things shouldn't only consider the way I feel as a musician and performer, but also its use would affect how much the audience would enjoy your performance. No audience wants to hear trembling in your voice or in your playing of a wind instrument, because they cry for you, they feel bad for you, or they think you're quite the amateur. Now, I simply will not perform without the tiny prescription for beta-blockers, since I can feel as comfortable as if I were performing in my own living room, and the hundreds of people in the audience can truly enjoy the music without feeling sorry for me.
Andrea Studzinski on March 21, 2018 @6:10 am PST
As an adult student of the violin, my teacher and I found a glass of wine helped my playing significantly. I "thought" less and played more. However, two glasses just made for sloppy string crossings!
William Strickler * VSM MEMBER * on June 3, 2015 @10:16 am PST
I hoped for an article on prescription drugs and safer drugs. For someone who has ADHD (or a touch of ADHD), caffeine and Ritalin help with focus. Learning and playing musical instruments like violin is a non-drug help for ADHD. But do the drugs also help with learning violin? Or in the long run, do they hurt?
Another question, Naproxen. Naproxen keeps down inflammation when practicing too much. Can a person keep playing when they require naproxen to control inflammation or is it a bad deal?
Robert - host, on June 3, 2015 @4:26 pm PST
For prescription drugs, I would recommend consulting a doctor. Some people utilize beta blockers in order to help dealing with nerves. I have heard of using melatonin to help relax as well.
Wayne Russell * VSM MEMBER * on March 21, 2018 @3:28 am PST

I aporeciate your opinion on this topic. I have found that beta blockers taken before a performance are helpful to me to relieve anxiety!
Jonathan Shopiro * VSM MEMBER * on June 3, 2015 @9:09 am PST
You didn't mention the world's number one favorite drug--caffeine! What would get done without it?
Robert - host, on June 3, 2015 @12:17 pm PST
You are right! In the accompanying article which will be on my website tomorrow, I do add caffeine to the list. Thanks for the keen observation!
wayne russell * VSM MEMBER * on June 3, 2015 @3:49 am PST
How do you feel about using alcohol or tranquilizing to alive anxiety before a performance? Does the benefit of relaxation outweigh the possible negative effects on memory or coordination?
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