Music

Can playing a musical instrument make you smarter?
Answered by Valerie Conners
  • Valerie Conners

    Valerie Conners

  1. The piano lessons so many people take when they're kids could really pay off, but not because it's making them virtuosos. It may, however, be making them smarter. A good deal of research suggests that playing an instrument can positively impact cognitive functions in a variety of ways. For example, studying music has been proven to raise verbal and non-verbal IQ scores, improve vocabulary, spelling and reasoning abilities, heighten mathematics skills, and help with language learning abilities [source: Hille, et al].

    Many anecdotes exist linking music and intelligence. For instance, there's what is known as the "Mozart Effect," in reality, the ability for learning music to improve a person's spatial reasoning. It seems Mozart was not only a brilliant pianist, he also had a penchant for playing billiards, and using mathematical reasoning to map out the spatial relationships among the balls on the table. Then there's the great genius Albert Einstein, who also gained notoriety for his talent playing the violin.

    The question then becomes, how does playing an instrument affect intelligence? These stories about Einstein and Mozart may be remarkable, but there is scientific proof that playing an instrument actually can change the physicality of the brain. Studies show that the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that links the higher centers of the left and right brain and transfers motor, sensory and cognitive information between the brain's hemispheres, increases in size in people who play musical instruments [source: Alleyne]. Other research concurs that besides this increase in brain size, the areas of the brain that control things like memory and hearing also become more active. This increased perception could yield evidence of higher intelligence. Interestingly, these results are not merely seen in children who are learning instruments; evidence of changes in brain functionality is also present in adults learning to play an instrument.


    mark ronson
    Being a music producer requires skill as a performer like Mark Ronson who produces and plays. (John Shearer/WireImage)

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