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Research Finds Music Training Increases Brain Power And Language Skills

Research Finds Music Training Increases Brain Power And Language Skills

Ever wondered what impact music has on the brain?

Consider this: Albert Einstein was a master violinist. His mother, also a talented musician, made sure musical expression was a part of the daily home life of her children growing up. Einstein himself began playing the violin when he was just 6-years-old. By the age of 13, he was playing Mozart’s sonatas.

Einstein is quoted saying, “Life without playing music is inconceivable to me. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.” Interestingly, a 1993 study of college students showed that listening to a Mozart sonata improved the student’s performance on spatial reasoning tests. That led to widespread claims that listening to Mozart temporarily increases Intelligence Quotients or IQs.

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Yet, newer studies found IQ doesn’t increase

According to Ani Patel, an associate professor of psychology at Tufts University and the author of “Music, Language, and the Brain,” listening to music can be relaxing and contemplative, but simply plugging in your iPod isn’t going to suddenly make you more intelligent.

However, Patel says, “there’s now a growing body of work that suggests that actually learning to play a musical instrument does have impacts on other [cognitive] abilities.” These abilities include speech perception, the ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, the ability to recognize emotions in people’s voices and the ability to develop language, reading, and other academic skills.

Apparently, playing a musical instrument engages all four hemispheres of the brain at an electrical, architectural and chemical level more than simply listening to music, which explains why it optimizes brain function. This may have been part of what made Einstein such an incredible genius.

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Research on the impact of music training on the mind

In one notable study led by Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the School of Communication, music training introduced as late as high school, was found to help sharpen hearing and language skills, and improve teenage brain’s responses to sound. In their study, Krause and his team of researchers followed 40 Chicago-area high school freshmen from when before school started until their senior year. Almost half the students had enrolled in band classes in school, which entailed two to three hours a week of instrumental group music instruction.

The other half of the recruited students had enrolled in junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). ROTC paid more emphasis on fitness exercises during a similar time frame. Both groups, however, attended the same schools in low-income neighborhoods.

After analyzing electrode recordings at the start of the study and three years later, Krause and colleagues found that all the students improved in language skills, but the improvement was greater for students in music classes. Moreover, the music group showed more rapid maturation in the brain’s sensitivity and response to sound compared with the ROTC group.

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“Although learning to play music does not teach skills that seem directly relevant to most careers, the results suggest that music may engender what educators refer to as ‘learning to learn’,” wrote Kraus in the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

So, why does music training has such a strong influence on the brain

You might be wondering: Why does music training influence language and other higher brain functions so? Neuropsychologist Patel offers a possible answer in his theory dubbed the OPERA hypothesis:

“The basic idea is that music is not an island in the brain cut off from other things, that there’s overlap, that’s the ‘O’ of OPERA, between the networks that process music and the networks that are involved in other day-to-day cognitive functions such as language, memory, attention and so forth,” he says. “The ‘P’ in OPERA is precision. Think about how sensitive we are to the tuning of an instrument, whether the pitch is in key or not, and it can be painful if it’s just slightly out of tune.”

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The level of precision involved when processing music, Patel says, is much higher than the level of precision used in processing speech. This means, he says, developing our brain’s musical networks may very well enhance our ability to process speech and, thus, improve our language skills.

“And the last three components of OPERA, the ‘E-R-A,’ are emotion, repetition and attention,” he says. “These are factors that are known to promote what’s called brain plasticity, the changing of the brain’s structure as a function of experience.” In other words, experiences that require full attention and engage the brain through emotion and repetition such as playing music effectively change the brain’s structure, making it stronger over time.

The lesson

These emerging music neuroscience studies that really began to take off around 2000 have important implications about the role of music in the lives of young children, Patel says. For one, if you are a parent, understanding there is a link between musical training and improved brain function, enhanced language skills and higher academic achievement in children can provide the motivation you need to enroll your kids into music training early, preferably before the end of their teenage years.

Even as an adult, practicing a musical instrument regularly can bring tremendous benefits. As another neuropsychologist, Nadine Gaab, at Boston Children’s Hospital notes, “There are a lot of different brain systems involved in successfully playing even a small musical piece: your auditory system, your motor system, your emotional system, your executive function system; this playing together of these brain regions, almost like in a musical ensemble.” They can make your brain stronger.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on April 8, 2020

Why Assuming Positive Intent Is an Amazing Productivity Driver

Why Assuming Positive Intent Is an Amazing Productivity Driver

Assuming positive intent is an important contributor to quality of life.

Most people appreciate the dividends such a mindset produces in the realm of relationships. How can relationships flourish when you don’t assume intentions that may or may not be there? And how their partner can become an easier person to be around as a result of such a shift? Less appreciated in the GTD world, however, is the productivity aspect of this “assume positive intent” perspective.

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Most of us are guilty of letting our minds get distracted, our energy sapped, or our harmony compromised by thinking about what others woulda, coulda, shoulda.  How we got wronged by someone else.  How a friend could have been more respectful.  How a family member could have been less selfish.

However, once we evolve to understanding the folly of this mindset, we feel freer and we become more productive professionally due to the minimization of unhelpful, distracting thoughts.

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The leap happens when we realize two things:

  1. The self serving benefit from giving others the benefit of the doubt.
  2. The logic inherent in the assumption that others either have many things going on in their lives paving the way for misunderstandings.

Needless to say, this mindset does not mean that we ought to not confront people that are creating havoc in our world.  There are times when we need to call someone out for inflicting harm in our personal lives or the lives of others.

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Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of Pepsi, says it best in an interview with Fortune magazine:

My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From ecent emailhim I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.’ So ‘assume positive intent’ has been a huge piece of advice for me.

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In business, sometimes in the heat of the moment, people say things. You can either misconstrue what they’re saying and assume they are trying to put you down, or you can say, ‘Wait a minute. Let me really get behind what they are saying to understand whether they’re reacting because they’re hurt, upset, confused, or they don’t understand what it is I’ve asked them to do.’ If you react from a negative perspective – because you didn’t like the way they reacted – then it just becomes two negatives fighting each other. But when you assume positive intent, I think often what happens is the other person says, ‘Hey, wait a minute, maybe I’m wrong in reacting the way I do because this person is really making an effort.

“Assume positive intent” is definitely a top quality of life’s best practice among the people I have met so far. The reasons are obvious. It will make you feel better, your relationships will thrive and it’s an approach more greatly aligned with reality.  But less understood is how such a shift in mindset brings your professional game to a different level.

Not only does such a shift make you more likable to your colleagues, but it also unleashes your talents further through a more focused, less distracted mind.

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Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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