Music Mastery

The benefits of learning to play a musical instrument have long been recognised from observing patterns of behaviour in children and adults. However, it is only in recent times that specific cognitive benefits have been identified through the use of fMRI scans and other forms of research, in addition to anecdotal musician-brain-smreports about changes in the behaviour and academic achievement of students who are learning a musical instrument. Assal Habibi, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California, has identified differences in anatomy and function when the brains of musicians are compared with non-musicians of similar age.

Research undertaken by members of the American Society for Neuroscience, reveal many cognitive benefits associated with learning a musical instrument, including: an increase in neural connections, improvement in sustained focus, benefits to memory function, heightened ability to process and coordinate multi-sensory information simultaneously, improved decision-making and greater creativity. Julie Roy, an auditory-neuroscience researcher at the University of Montreal, has identified significant improvements in longtime musicians’ capacity to multitask (read music, play an instrument, listen to others’ playing and adjusting one’s own playing) and distinguish between senses (touch and hearing), indicating greater neural connectivity.

Music and Maths relateA correlation between mathematics and music is based upon studies showing that musicians achieve higher academic results and scores on standardized tests, in maths. Despite this established link, it seems unclear whether development of skills in one area directly enhances capacity in the other or whether skills in these areas develop in a parallel fashion. Executive functions, including the ability to learn, process, reason and plan, are described by Nadine Gaab and Jennifer Zuk, from Harvard University, as critical for achieving in both mathematics and music.

Kid MusicKarolinska Institute neuroscientist, Ana Pinho, maintains cognitive and behavioural benefits are evident when music training is undertaken at any age; however this is particularly so when a child commences music training prior to the age of seven. Increased transfer of working memory to long-term memory, capacity to improvise and be creative was identified among musicians and is directly related to the length of time the individual has been playing music. Cognitive benefits associated with music training, the pleasure and emotional release associated with playing music, accompanied by the establishment of behavioural patterns such as intense focus, commitment to regular practice, group participation (when playing in musical ensembles and orchestras) have a cumulative effect. The gradual and sustained mastery of music increases cognitive capacity and creativity, develops a range of skills and enhances academic achievements while providing enormous pleasure.

© Michele Juratowitch