Benefits of Musical Study
Music study as a child positively impacts brain processing and enhances language and motor development, foreign language acquisition, memory and retention skills, inner voice development, spatial and temporal reasoning, and higher-level thinking.
“Brain scanning studies show that the extent of anatomical change in musicians’ brains is closely related to the age at which musical training began, and the intensity of training. Those who started training at the youngest age showed the largest changes when compared to non-musicians.” Want to ‘train your brain’? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument.
Another study by USC also explored the effects of music study on a child’s brain. If You Want to Accelerate Brain Development in Children, Teach Them Music.
Professor, researcher, and author of Building Brains with Music, Maryann Harman, notes that “…children, who were exposed to keyboard instruction on a weekly basis for a period of at least six months, had better spatial-temporal reasoning. Unfortunately, [research] also showed that if the music lessons were discontinued, the connections made from the music lessons would die off. Music must be an ongoing part of the curriculum.”
Ms. Harman goes on to explain, “The real magic of music is that it not only uses both hemispheres, but each quadrant of the brain processes a different component of music. Human beings learn 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, 50 percent of what they see and hear, 70 percent of what is discussed, 80 percent of what is experienced and 95% of what you actively teach. Early childhood experiences that get the child involved in the total process will yield the greatest results.” Music involves the child in the total process!
The Journal of Neuroscience reports on a study by Northwestern University which investigated the importance of keeping a beat. “It may be that musical training—with its emphasis on rhythmic skills—can exercise the auditory system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential to learning to read.”
Consider the following from Alfred’s Music for Little Mozarts Curriculum:
Health & Wellness
McGill University’s psychology department recently released a study showing that, due to certain brain chemicals produced while experiencing music, music can be highly effective in reducing anxiety, treating eating disorders, and boosting immunity. Music itself can even function as a painkiller! Neurochemistry of Music; also Manage Chronic Pain.
Classical music in particular has been linked to many health benefits. “A number of academic studies recently zeroed in on classical music, showing that listening benefits the brain, sleep patterns, the immune system and stress levels — all helpful when facing those all-important end-of-semester tests.” USC News.
“My college student, who is now in the middle of his second semester with me and started as a complete beginner, all of a sudden in the middle of the lesson just told me that he’s been battling with a horrible heroin addiction. He OD’d several times and had his heart fully stop at some point. His psychiatrist recommended to him to take piano lessons to start building new neural connections. So he did and he says playing piano had a dramatic effect on him. He’s been heroin free for 7 months now since he started piano…”
—Teacher post in The Art of Piano Pedagogy
Learning and playing an instrument is one of the best ways to keep our brains sharp as we mature! “Music reaches parts of the brain that other things can’t…It’s a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust.” Want to ‘train your brain’? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument.
“Learning to play a musical instrument, then, seems to be one of the most effective forms of brain training there is. Musical training can induce various structural and functional changes in the brain, depending on which instrument is being learned [one of the best is the piano], and the intensity of the training regime.” (Ibid.)
According to Your Aging Brain Will Be in Better Shape if You’ve Taken Music Lessons, “it’s not too late to gain benefits even if you didn’t take up an instrument until later in life. Jennifer Bugos, an assistant professor of music education at the University of South Florida, Tampa, studied the impact of individual piano instruction on adults between the ages of 60 and 85. After six months, those who had received piano lessons showed more robust gains in memory, verbal fluency, the speed at which they processed information, planning ability, and other cognitive functions, compared with those who had not received lessons.
A study by Northwestern University shows that musical training can “offset losses in memory and difficulties hearing speech in noise — two common complaints of older adults.”
For Our Community
Karl Paulnack expressed a deeply compelling justification for art music in his welcome address to incoming freshmen at Boston Conservatory.
“Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us… Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it.”
“Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.”
In response to 9/11 attacks as a Manhattan resident, Paulnack observed, “The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.”
“I have come to understand that music is not part of ‘arts and entertainment’ as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.”
Undeniable is the fact that music is worth studying in its own right, “l’art pour l’art”. Music is the epitome of beautiful, creative, expressive humanity. As if that were not enough, research now points to a wealth of reasons to immerse ourselves in good music throughout our lives, in utero through senior adulthood.