How Playing Music Affects the Developing Brain, Part 1:

A study conducted in 1993 revealed that college students perform better on spatial reasoning tests after listening to a Mozart sonata. The follow up question then became, “Can listening to Mozart temporarily increase IQs?” The general consensus was yes. In 1998 Zell Miller, the governor of Georgia at that time, proposed the idea of providing every newborn in Georgia with a CD of classical music. But current research has produced doubts on this claim. Author of “Music, Language, and the Brain,” Ani Patel, also an associate professor of psychology at Tufts University claims that while listening to music can be relaxing and contemplative, the idea that listening to Mozart on your iPod is going to make you more intelligent does not make all the scientific sense to him. Rather, it is more likely that learning to play an instrument has an impact on other intellectual abilities. Some of these abilities include the ability to understand emotions in the voice and the ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously.  Music neuroscience is a fairly new field of research that started to take off in about 2000.  There are studies out there but only few where children are trained in music and then their cognition change is measured over time.  Cognition changes include brain processing and brain structure changes. Patel believes that music neuroscience, music education and neuroscience can help answer questions about the human brain on a basic level such as:
  • How do we process sequences with complex hierarchical structure and make sense of them?
  • How do we integrate sensation and action?
  • How do we remember long and difficult sequences of information?
These are fundamental neuroscience questions.  In some ways, music is simpler than language.  But music is also complex and utilizes deep aspects of human brain function. Patel believes that music neuroscience research has important implications about the role of music in the lives of young children. He says, “If we know how and why music changes the brain in ways that affect other cognitive abilities, this could have a real impact on the value we put on it as an activity in the schools, not to mention all the impact is has on emotional development, emotional maturity, social skills, stick-to-itiveness, this we typically don’t measure in school but which are hugely important in a child’s ultimate success.”