• Dr. Kalie Baker

Benefits of Playing a Musical Instrument

The benefits of listening to and playing music have been preached about for years. Starting children young with simple piano lessons have been shown to impact numerous academic areas. Further studies have shown that music lessons have been correlated to much more as well.

Psychology Science published research back in 2004 that showed that full-scale IQ did measurably increase in children who took music lessons.  The article stated that

“The idea that music makes you smarter has received considerable attention from scholars and the media. The present report is the first to test this hypothesis directly with random assignment of a large sample of children (N = 144) to two different types of music lessons (keyboard or voice) or to control groups that received drama lessons or no lessons. IQ was measured before and after the lessons. Compared with children in the control groups, children in the music groups exhibited greater increases in full-scale IQ. The effect was relatively small, but it generalized across IQ subtests, index scores, and a standardized measure of academic achievement. Unexpectedly, children in the drama group exhibited substantial pre- to post-test improvements in adaptive social behavior that were not evident in the music groups.” Schellenberg EG. Music lessons enhance IQ. Psychol Sci. 2004 Aug;15(8):511-4.  PubMed PMID: 15270994

Playing a musical instrument and being involved in music has been debated to have effects on much more than just IQ. While it has been said to help develop various skills such as spatial awareness, fine motor skills, rhythm, observation, and improved social skills, it has also been linked more generally to help with higher-level careers.

According to research performed by numerous universities including the Maharishi University of Management in the US, Harald Harung, Oslo University College in Norway, and Yvonne Lagrosen, University West in Sweden, 

“musicians’ brains are highly developed in a way that makes the musicians alert, interested in learning, disposed to see the whole picture, calm, and playful. The same traits have previously been found among world-class athletes, top-level managers, and individuals who practice transcendental meditation.”  Expertanswer (Expertsvar in Swedish). “Musicians’ brains highly developed.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110505083421.htm>.

Music lessons have been shown in several studies to increase math scores and this study revealed that just a couple of years of piano lessons showed higher scores.  Considering that this study was performed over 20 years ago in 1999, the relationship between music and math performance certainly isn’t new.  The study states,

“Analyses indicated that students who had private lessons for two or more years performed significantly better on the composite mathematics portion of the ITBS than did students who did not have private lessons.”  Cheek, Joyce M; Smith, Lyle R. Adolescence; Roslyn Heights Vol. 34, Iss. 136, (Winter 1999): 759-61.

The benefits of learning a musical instrument don’t stop with just improving IQ, academic, and career performance, although I feel like that would be more than enough to convince someone to enroll their child in piano lessons. Another study revealed that lessons can also help with the aging mind and possibly even athletic performance.

A study in the U.S. journal Brain and Cognition stated that

“Researchers find that musicians have faster reaction times than non-musicians — and that could have implications for the elderly.”   University of Montreal. “Play an instrument? You probably react faster, too.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 January 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170110151348.htm>.

The lead researcher, Simon Landry discussed the goal of his study stating,

“The idea is to better understand how playing a musical instrument affects the senses in a way that is not related to music.” University of Montreal. “Play an instrument? You probably react faster, too.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 January 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170110151348.htm>.

As he revealed that the many benefits of learning to play a musical instrument go beyond just testing better in school and can have benefits in aging, he pointed out,

“As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them.” University of Montreal. “Play an instrument? You probably react faster, too.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 January 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170110151348.htm>.

Considering some may play off the effects of studies showing an increase in IQ and still say it could be debated on a level that would examine the actual physiology of the brain, research has gone into that as well. 

Aside from mathematics improvements, the sheer fact that musicians’ brain waves show different reactions and reaction times, denies any claim that developing a musical skill doesn’t directly affect the brain.  A study over 25 years ago in 1994 revealed the neurophysiological changes as they examined the brain wave responses of musician and nonmusicians to 

“The timing of these brain waves revealed that musicians are faster than non-musicians in detecting incongruities. This study provides further neurophysiological evidence concerning the mechanisms underlying music perception and the differences between musical and linguistic processing.” Besson, Mireille, Frederique Faïta, and Jean Requin. “Brain waves associated with musical incongruities differ for musicians and non-musicians.” Neuroscience letters 168.1-2 (1994): 101-105.

While new research is always coming out and everything can still be debated on some level, showing that the responsive brain waves are different and measurable quicker

Remembering that vision is MUCH more than just 20/20, as a behavioral optometrist, I can’t help but always want to educate people on the 17 Visual Skills and all the ones that are specifically needed just to read and that when it comes to learning, 80% of what children learn is take in visually.

So it is vital to their academic success and success in everyday activities, as these are not problems children outgrow, that they have well developed visual information processing skills including the visual perception skills here on this page.

If you feel like you or your little one are struggling with reading or any of the visual skills needed to live your life comfortably, don’t worry! Vision Therapy has incredibly high success rates for various vision conditions and lazy-eyes (or eye-turns as we like to call them). Call our office today for a complete and comprehensive eye and vision exam!

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