Do smart people have more musical aptitude, or can learning music actually make you smarter? As amazing as it sounds, the latter is actually true. Randomized studies of people of the same cognitive ability have shown that those who take music lessons experience gains in neural processing, compared to those who did not study music.
It wasn’t until the last decade or two, when functional brain imaging became possible, that we were able to fully understand this now well-documented phenomena. Technologies such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Positron Emission Tomography have allowed neuroscientists to gain incredible insights into how learning and playing music affects the brain.
While listening to music engages the brain, modern brain scanning techniques show that playing music becomes the equivalent of a complete workout, stimulating and exercising multiple areas of the brain simultaneously. Among the regions that playing a musical instrument excite are the visual, auditory and motor cortices. Improved connectivity between the right and left sides of the brain is evidenced by the increased volume and activity of the corpus callosum, which acts as the bridge between both hemispheres. This is credited with improving both cognitive and emotional understanding. Individuals who learn to play music benefit from gains in both left brain tasks, such as problem solving and mathematical ability, as well a right brain tasks such as creative thinking.
Perhaps not surprisingly, fine motor skills, which are controlled by both hemispheres are also improved with music lessons.
The structured practice employed to learn to play music is also thought to contribute to the benefit by strengthening the connections which music stimulates in various parts of the brain. Just as regular weight lifting builds specific muscles, mastering an instrument through regular music lessons and practice trains the brain to efficiently process multiple stimuli on both the right and left sides of the brain.
These gains have been especially well studied in children who study music, making all of us at Columbus Music Schools strong proponents of childhood music education. A very recent (November 2014) study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry examined 232 healthy kids ranging in age from 6 to 18 using Magnetic Resonance Imaging at 2-year intervals. The study concluded that playing a musical instrument was associated not only with improved motor planning and visuospatial ability, but also emotion and impulse regulation.
An earlier peer-reviewed study on the benefits of music education, published on PLOS One in 2008, found that children who received at least three years of music instruction outperformed their control counterparts not just in areas closely related to music (auditory discrimination abilities and fine motor skills) but also in areas seemingly unrelated to music (vocabulary and non-verbal reasoning skills).
The dedicated music instructors at Columbus Music Schools see firsthand this kind of growth and blossoming on a daily basis. Sharing the joy as well as the lifelong benefits of learning to play music is our passion and our privilege. We enjoy creating a customized approach to each individual’s music lesson goals, interests and learning level. Our 17 music teachers provide personalized instruction in piano, violin, viola, cello, guitar, woodwinds, percussion and voice. Contact Columbus Music Schools’ Student Services Coordinator Megan Yankee (megan@ColumbusMusicSchools.com) to learn more about music lessons for you or your child.