Why Learn Music

Scientific Information

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Brain response to music

How does learning music help brain development?
  1. Young children's minds are still developing at a rapid rate and their neural pathways are easily influenced by music. Music strengthens the connection between the neurons that connect the two halves of our brain. Increased strength of the neural connection leads to more efficient information processing and multitasking capabilities.
    Conversely, a child's unused neurons will be rendered useless.
  2. Bengtsson and her research team reported that reading music increases creativity and plasticity of neural connections1. Creativity is increased because, in music (as it is with a new language), the individual has to think in another mindset to understand what has been presented. Plasticity is increased because new neural connections need to be formed, based on new music experiences. At the same time, pathways formed by previous music experiences need to be remembered. Hence the Mozart effect - which states that when an individual listens to short bursts of music, their intellect and motor abilities increase and become more efficient.
  3. Harvard Medical school (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) research2 has shown that children who diligently practise music can strengthen connections between the two hemispheres of their brains.
    In 1995, a study led by neurologist and neuroscientist Gottfried Schlaug found that professional musicians who started playing before the age of 7 have an unusually thick corpus callosum, the bundle of axons that serve as an information superhighway between the left and right sides of the brain.
    Using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers have shown that children who faithfully practised at least 2.5 hours a week (ie 0.5 hours per day for 5 days), a region of the corpus callosum that connects movement-planning regions on the two sides of the brain grew about 25% relative to the overall size of the brain. Children who averaged only an hour or two of weekly practice and those who stopped playing music entirely showed no such growth.
  4. Music helps children do better at math3,4.
  5. Study by Dartmouth music psychologist Petr Janata published by Science in 2002 has confirmed that music prompts greater connectivity between the brains left and right hemispheres and between the areas responsible for emotion and memory, than does almost any other stimuli.

How does music improve physiological well-being?
  1. Classical music from the Baroque period causes the heart to slow and relax to the beat of the music. As this happens, the mind is able to concentrate more easily. It also decreases blood pressure and enhances the ability to learn.
  2. Music influences our hormone system, our involuntary nervous system (which controls breathing and heart rate), have an effect on our immune system, alleviates anxiety and improves sleep quality.
  3. Music has an effect on chronic stress. In stress, there is a high level of cortisol. Listening to music leads to a significant reduction in the cortisol level, bringing it back to normal levels in just one hour. Television is not able to provide such deep relaxation - it merely creates more confusion.

1Bengtsson S et al. Extensive piano practicing has regionally specific effects on white matter development. Nature Neuroscience 2005;8(9):1148-1150.
2Wan CY, Schlaug G. Music making as a tool for promoting brain plasticity across the life span. Neuroscientist 2010;16(5):566-577.
3Rauscher FH, Shaw GL, Ky KN. Music and spatial task performance. Nature 1993;365: 611.
4Rauscher FH, Shaw GL, Ky KN. Listening to Mozart enhances spatial-temporal reasoning: toward a neurophysiological basis. Neurosci Lett 1995;185: 44-7.

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