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Music’s Effects on The Brain and Learning

June 16, 2011
music

Image by flyzipper via Flickr

By Jonathan Hicks

“If you get in music in school you’ll make more friends and it’ll make you smarter!” Most of us have heard that at some point in our lives haven’t we? But is it really true? Will music actually make you smarter? Does it actually have an effect on how your brain works?

The simple answer is yes, it does have an effect on the brain. Studies show that even from a young age listening to and being involved with music will result in a child having a higher IQ than a child who is not exposed to music on a regular basis. Although this may seem far-fetched, in reality it is quite truthful. Even at a young age learning music makes a child use a great amount of brain power. Learning how to read rhythms and pitches is not an easy task for a young child and putting the two together to read both at the same time is even harder! If you think about the amount of thought and brain power a 5 or 6 year old child has to use in order to learn their first piano piece (or learning to play with TWO hands) you will surely agree that this has to make them smarter in the long run. At such a young age, learning to make your brain tell your fingers what do while reading notes off a page is a great feat. In fact The New York Times states that a significant amount of study on a particular musical instrument can cause an enlargement of the Cerebral Cortex (a part of the brain “associated with higher brain Function”).

It is also quite true that music has a profound effect one’s memory. If you think about it quite simply you will realize the memory capacity needed to be a successful musician is not by any means small. A musician is forced to remember an extensive number of things in order to be able to even play music properly; everything from note names and durations, fingerings, dynamics and tempo markings. Even then a musician is sometimes required to memorize full pieces of music for specific performances. In a case such as this the musician has to memorize all the aspects previously listed in an exact way pertaining to the piece they are required to play.

Along with memory, music can have a very positive effect on the brain’s ability to have a quick reaction time. This ability is achieved by the daunting, hated task of sight-reading. Sight-reading is an aspect of music education that takes a long time to conquer and which I, along with some of my fellow musicians still struggle with from time to time. Although many musicians find this hard it is an essential skill to have and undoubtedly this skill alone would do wonders for the development of one’s brain. The ability to look at a brand new piece of music and play it right away takes a tremendous amount of concentration and dedication to learning this skill.

Music is also used in the medical world to stimulate the brain. In the case of some Alzheimer patients music can be used to stimulate the brain in order to bring back lost memories. It was also proven that by subjecting Alzheimer patients to music therapy it caused a secretion of the hormone melatonin which helped calm even the patients who were hard to deal with. Jane Vail states that “Music therapy might be a safer and more effective alternative to many psychotropic medications. Like meditation and yoga, it can help us maintain our hormonal and emotional balance, even during periods of stress or disease.”

Personally, after having a very serious brain tumour at the age of ten I was faced with a hard task of getting back to school. Before returning home from Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital both myself and my parents were told that I may not be able to perform well in school and that due to the effects the tumour had left me with, I may not have be able to continue playing drums well because I would not be able to use my motor skills as well as I used to. When I got home I was determined not to lose music from my life so I started to relearn how to play drums. Both my parents and I very strongly believe that if it wasn’t for music I most likely would not have recovered as quickly as I did and I probably would not have had the ability to learn and get back into my routine at school as easily. Basically, if it wasn’t for music I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Music continues to be a very important part of my education as I am completing a Bachelor in Music Degree at MUN’s school of music.

I strongly believe that music is a great learning tool and that by involving children (or anyone) in music we are giving them the opportunity to broaden their minds and their education. Not only will music give a child or adult the opportunity to become smarter and increase their brain function but it also provides an individual with an amazing sense of accomplishment. Believe me when you finish a challenging piece, whether it be a level one piano piece or a piece you are preparing for an audition, you will feel so good about yourself (this is the case no matter if you are 4 years old or 40!). Music is an outstanding, fun way to broaden your horizons, increase your brain function, relieve your stress and have fun while doing it!

Related websites:

http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n15/mente/musica.html

http://www.livescience.com/5327-music-memory-connection-brain.html

http://musiced.about.com/od/beginnersguide/a/pinst.htm

http://www.theamazingagingmind.com/2010/alzheimers-and-music-stimulating-the-brain-to-remember/

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