Does Music Really Make You Clever?

Can Learning Music Make You More Intelligent?

The neurological benefits derived from learning music have long been expounded on, yet have been persistently overlooked in formal education. Straight off the bat, studies have shown that people who take up an instrument can increase their IQ an average of 7 points. While this is impressive, IQ is just a measuring stick of mental capability, and doesn’t demonstrate exactly what improvements have been made.

Many studies have correlated learning music with increased linguistic proficiency. This is because the auditory centres in the left hemisphere of the brain are enhanced, allowing the learner to comprehend tones and vocal patterns more easily. Auditory memory is also enhanced, and the sense of hearing in general. This benefit translates to native communication as well, in quite a surprising way: by virtue of their increased tonal sensitivity, music players can recognise emotional subtleties in others’ speech, allowing them to be more emotionally connected and empathetic.

There are even studies that imply these neurological changes could help counter physiological detriment: Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, has experimental data that suggest older individuals who have a music background have far greater hearing capability than their non-musical peers, and in some cases, than young people who haven’t been exposed to a musical education. The best news is that these neurological benefits can be ingrained at any point in life. While the brain’s plasticity is most prominent in under-10s, adult minds maintain a degree of neural flexibility. Lutz Jäncke from the University of Zurich claims that people over the age of 65 will see strong neurological changes after playing for more than four months.

On the non-auditory front, playing music also enhances manual dexterity. The reasons for this are obvious: the effective playing of any instrument requires hitting a variety of specific notes at exactly the right time, a skill that translates easily to other tasks that require fine motor skills. There is evidence that spatial perception is also improved as a result of this. Players of ensemble instruments see yet another neurological benefit, that of increased sociability. This stems from the need for teamwork, and the literal “working in harmony” with others.

There are many “soft” mental advantages, that aren’t strictly neurological, but are beneficial nonetheless. These include enhanced self-discipline from the requisite music practice regimen an instrument demands, increased confidence from performing and increased appreciation of different music styles and the arts in general. Unfortunately, music has been allocated a secondary position in today’s educational climate, mainly due to its perception as being costly for comparatively little return. Nothing could be farther from the truth: investing in a musical education is an investment well made.

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