Back in my 20s, I was often asked twice, what I did for a living. After over 12 years of making music for a living, I’ve come to appreciate that there’s more to music than just a simple hobby. These are 5 interesting scientific facts about musicians that might encourage to enroll yourself and your child in the next available music program:
1) Musicians Are Smarter Than You Think
Playing an instrument involves an orchestration of regions in our most primitive reptilian brain, the cerebellum and the brain stem, as well as the highest cognitive systems, such as the motor cortex and the planning regions of our frontal lobes. On average, musicians are constantly using their brains to engage in music activities. Reading music, for example, requires the visual cortex. Listening or recalling lyrics involves language centers, including Broca’s and Wernicke’s area, as well as other language centers in the temporal and frontal lobes. As musicians play their instruments, they are also refining their motor skills and exercising their motor cortex. Playing an instrument has proven to improve auditory discrimination and spatial and temporal reasoning skills required for learning math and science.1
This is consistent with school results, as first-graders with developed rhythm skills have been shown to perform better academically. 2. Second- and third- graders who were taught the relationships between an eighth, quarter, half and whole notes scored one hundred percent higher on fractions tests 2. Students who regularly take piano or singing lessons for more than one year gain more IQ points over that year than those who don’t. 3. On average, music students score higher on their SATs. 4. Finally, schools that are producing the highest academic achievement in the US spend twenty to thirty percent on arts, specially emphasizing on music. 5.
2) Musicians Have Bigger Brains (and size does matter!)
M.D. Ph. D. Gottfried Shlaug has researched musicians’ brains extensively. He has found that the front portion of the corpus callosum is considerably larger in musicians than non-musicians. 6. The corpus callosum is a trunk-like bundle of neurons that connect our two hemispheres. An enlarged corpus callosum allows for more efficient communication between the two sides of the prefrontal cortex, where our intellectual planning and foresight occur. There is also an increased number and density in synapses in musicians’ brains. Schlaug also found musicians to have larger cerebellums and an increased concentration of gray matter. Gray matter is the part of the brain that contains cell bodies, axons and dendrites. It is in charge of information processing.
3) Musicians Are Remarkable At Courtship
In a clever study, women where asked, during their peak of fertility as well as in other stages of their menstrual cycle, to rate the attractiveness of potential mates based on written vignettes describing fictional male characters. It turns out when women were in their peak fertility, they preferred a creative, yet poor man over an average yet rich man. It appears that Mother Nature favors creative genes for procreation. This is consistent with other species. In songbirds, for example, the male of the species is the one that sings. A large repertoire indicates intellect and, consequently, potentially good genes. This explains why female birds ovulate more quickly in the presence of male songbirds with a larger…song repertoire that is! This is also consistent with UCLA’s research by Miller and Martie Haselton, who have shown that for human females, creativity trumps wealth, as creativity is very likely a better predictor of who will furnish better genes for their children!
4) Musicians Are Better At Problem Solving
Because the volume and brain activity in the corpus callosum of disciplined musicians is bigger, more connections between both hemispheres are established in a musician’s brain. This may be the reason why musicians often have higher levels of executive function, a category of tasks that are interlinked and include planning, strategizing and attention to detail, which requires simultaneous analysis of cognitive and emotional aspects. Through this ability, musicians also create, store and retrieve memories quicker and more efficiently.
A recent study performed at Harvard showed that college music majors can block out distraction more successfully, thus concentrating better. 7.
5) Music Making Precedes Most Professions In The World
Long before there were politicians, lawyers and even farmers, humans were making music. In fact, strong tangible evidence, like the fifty thousand year old Slovenian bone flute, strongly suggests we made music before we could even speak. The similarities in music and speech processing in the frontal and temporal lobes of our brain suggest that those neural circuits that are used for music and language may start out undifferentiated when we’re babies and later on specialize for specific tasks. Music is not only the activity that prepared our ancestors for speech communication and representational flexibility required to become humans, but singing and instrumental activities were very likely the ones that helped refine our motor skills so we could have the muscle control required for vocal or signed speech.
Please like and share your opinions on musicians and playing an instrument. You can leave your comments below.
1. Gretchen Reynolds, “Phys Ed: Does Music Make You Exercise Harder?” New York Times, August 25, 2010.
2. Debby Mitchell, “The Relationship Between Rhythmic Competency and Academic Performance in First Grade Children,” Ph.D. diss., University of Central Florida, 1994.
3. Gordon Shaw and Mathew Peterson, “Enhanced Learning of Proportional Math Through Music Training and Spatial-Temporal Training,” Neurological Research 21, no. 2 (1999): 139– 52.
4. The College Board, “Profiles of SAT and Achievement Test Takers” (1998), quoted in “Give Your Children the Musical Advantage,” AMC Music, http:// www.amc-music.com.
5. Harvey, “Supporting Music Education.”
6. Steven Kurutz, “They’re Playing My Song. Time to Work Out.” New York Times, January 10, 2008
7. Bronson and Merryman, “The Creativity Crisis.”
Suggested Further Reading:
Levitin, Daniel J. (2006-08-03). This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
Campbell, Don; Doman, Alex (2011-09-29). Healing at the Speed of Sound: How What We Hear Transforms Our Brains and Our Lives