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:

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.
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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