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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 January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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