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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.

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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 September 28, 2020

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

More About Working From Home

Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

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