The Amazing Life-Long Benefits of Learning Music

The Amazing Life-Long Benefits of Learning Music

One of my favorite undergraduate courses at Berklee College of Music was “Music Cognition.” My Professor, Dr. Susan Rogers, studied and worked with Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin, author of the groundbreaking book, “This is Your Brain on Music,” among others. Before becoming a scientist, Dr. Rogers worked as a record producer, studio engineer, and mixer, most notably for the artist, Prince from 1983-1988. We’re talking “Purple Rain,” my friends! 

While I, like so many, have always loved music, I discovered a new appreciation and respect for the process of learning music. Doing so can literally change a person. 

Music enhances the process of learning by simultaneous engagement of senses, muscles, and intellect. Music cognition is a branch of cognitive psychology—the scientific study of thinking and information processing. Cognitive psychologists investigate mental processes such as: 

  • learning 
  • memory 
  • attention 
  • language acquisition and use 
  • decision-making 
  • categorization 
  • action planning 
  • consciousness 

Music cognition is the study of mental activities that lead to musical behaviors. Musical behaviors include the following: 

  • sensing—the physical sensation of sound 
  • listening—perceiving and attending to sound 
  • learning—internalizing (i.e., to acquire knowledge of) musical norms from exposure to music in our culture 
  • remembering—learning new songs and recalling or recognizing them later 
  • feeling—recognizing and being affected by emotion in music 
  • performing—expressing emotion, ideas, rhythm using a musical instrument or voice 

Humans do not need musical training to express musical behaviors. This has led music cognition researchers to conclude that music may be an innate property of the human nervous system, meaning that we are born with a capacity to understand and make music, just as we are born with an inescapable drive to acquire and use language. 

In his excellent book, “This Is Your Brain on Music,” McGill University neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin notes science has shown that when children learn to play music, their brains begin to hear and process sounds that they couldn’t otherwise hear. This helps them develop “neurophysiological distinction” between certain sounds that can aid in literacy, which can translate into improved academic results for kids. A 2014 study from Northwestern University revealed that in order to fully reap the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can’t just sit there and let the sound of music wash over them. They have to be actively engaged in the music and participants of it. 

School-age students of music and the arts have higher grades, better standardized test scores on the verbal and math portions of the SAT, better attendance in school, and are more active in community affairs as documented by multiple studies performed at higher-level institutions. 

Music cultivates skills that are useful throughout life for both children and adults. These include concentration, coordination, perseverance, self-confidence, and esteem as well as relaxation. Music provides benefits that can counterbalance highly competitive activities. 

Many employers and colleges view participation in arts and music as a way of broadening the understanding and appreciation of the world. 

Music provides all kinds of physical and mental benefits for both children and adults. Study of a musical instrument strengthens cognitive skills as well as auditory memory and the ability to hear speech in noisy environments. Music relaxes the mind and reduces anxiety and depression. Further, the adjustment decisions involved in the performance of a musical instrument for tempo, tone, style, rhythm, and phrasing train the brain to be good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once. 

Music is a language that brings people together. It is a bridge to connect with others. Music uses communication, creativity, and cooperation to enrich lives. It's also a lot of fun. 

I would love to share your creative journey. You can sign up for a FREE LESSON right here.

- Michael Pickering

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