In many recently performed studies, scientists have discovered the fact that both listening and playing music, particularly classical music, have a profoundly positive impact on the brain. This is often referred to as the “Mozart Effect”. Among the works of Mozart that are especially prominent in this phenomenon are his Baroque period 60 beat per minute pieces.
In a Bulgarian study performed by Dr George Lozanov, listening to 60 bpm (beat per minute) compositions by Mozart proved conducive to improved learning and academic performance results. During this study, it was revealed that listening to the 60bpm compositions by Mozart allowed the students to learn and retain half of a term’s words/phrases in a foreign language class within one day, with a retention rate of 92%. (4) In continuing this study, Lozanov found that when the presence of the music was consistent during instructional periods, students were able to learn an entire foreign language with a minimum of 85% efficiency within a period of just 30 days.(4)
These particular works of Mozart have also proven to be beneficial to the brain in functions outside of the classroom. It has been proven that music, especially music with a consistent and prominent beat, is capable of affecting heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, brain wave frequency, and pupil dilation. In one study, an autistic child was attempting to tie his shoes for the first time and was originally attempting to do so without the aid of music and could not complete the task. However, when he tried to tie his shoes while listening to the 60bpm Mozart pieces, he was successful by his second attempt.
While listening to classical music has shown itself to be markedly beneficial in the above cases, the intellectual benefits are increased significantly when the listener takes an active role and plays the music as well. In many studies it has been proven that playing a musical instrument improves the learning and understanding of both one’s native language as well as foreign languages. Musicians have been shown to have more activity in the auditory cortex area of the brain (the section of the brain which manages the processing of sound) than non musicians in response to hearing musical notes. A greater level of neural response to changes of pitch in speech has been displayed in those who play musical instruments which is helpful in being able to judge emotions and for children to be able to understand the difference between questions and statements. (1) Additionally, musical instruction has been revealed to help children as well as adults learn to build vocabulary skills and to tune out background noise and to be able to focus in noisy environments, which can be an extremely valuable gain for those with learning disabilities.
In a recent study conducted in Hong Kong, 90 students between the ages of 6 to 15 years of age were divided into two groups – one of which would receive musical training and one of which would not. After their training in the school orchestra, the group that received the musical instruction performed much better on vocabulary and verbal memory tests than the group who did not receive musical instruction. As the years progressed, some of the students who hadn’t previously received musical lessons were added to the school orchestra and their scores on the tests improved and the students who remained in the orchestra from the previous years continued to improve as well. Some of the students had ceased their musical instruction and while their tests scores did not decline, they did not see the continuation in improvement that the students who remained in the school orchestra enjoyed. (2) Similar results have been seen in many other nations, as students who receive musical lessons and participate in school bands/orchestras consistently receive higher academic marks.
Many medical professionals even suggest music lessons as a way of helping those with brain injuries regain their lost abilities, especially in communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.
The journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience attests to the fact that playing music helps to increase adaptive abilities such as language acquisition, speech, memory, attention span, and vocal emotion. (3) Improvements have been seen in neural activation in those children who have had musical instruction which has aided them in communication between the brain hemispheres which is needed to freely move between various details and to see the larger picture as a whole in many academic and non-academic challenges and functions. This is most notably seen in those students who practice for a minimum of 20 minutes per day. (3)
Though many of the studies regarding the effects of studying, playing, and listening to music on the brain are relatively new, the benefits of music have been observed at several points in history. Thomas Jefferson often claimed that when he would have concentration or writer’s block issues while writing the Declaration of Independence, playing his violin would help him concentrate and get the words flowing from his brain to his pen more smoothly and efficiently. Additionally, Albert Einstein had at various points credited his violin playing to his intelligence, stating that improvising on the violin was tremendously helpful in assisting him in working out many problems and mathematical equations.(4)
In summation, it can clearly be seen that a passion for listening to classical music can be very helfpul to the brain, but adding playing to the mix takes the benefits up to a higher plane. While especially helpful to children, the benefits of musical instruction may be reaped by people of any age. In short, the positive effects of musical training cannot be overlooked and it is something that throughout the ages will continue to be an enriching experience for many people on many levels.
1. Rettner, Rachel. “Music Tones of the Brain, Improves Learning”. www.livescience.com. July 20, 2010
2. “Music Makes the Brain Better”. http://news.bbc.co.uk. July 27, 2010
3. Harris, Misty. “Why Music Lessons Are a Smart Choice for Priming Your Child’s Brain”. Edmonton Journal. July 23, 2010
4. O’Donnel, Laurence. “Music andthe Brain”. http://users.characterlink.net/odonnell/report.html