Music has charms to soothe the savage beast, so wrote the playwright-poet William Congreve. Science has shown that music can also heal and slow down the aging process. But new research has found one more reason to learn this universal language: Music can actually make you smarter.
Researchers from the University of Granada observed the neurological changes that occur due to prolonged musical training. The first-of-its-kind study showed that music helps people solve problems better. That’s because musicians enjoy higher neural connectivity than non-musicians, and therefore have an easier time with mental activities.
Scientists from the Mind, Brain and Behaviour Research Centre and the Department of History and Music Science studied 142 students in many music schools like the “Victoria Eugenia” Royal Conservatory of Music in Granada, the Conservatory of Music in Málaga, and the University of Granada’s Bachelor’s Degree in the History and Science of Music department. The students had formal music training for at least ten years, and learned to play an instrument in the process.
Participants underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) along with several neuro-psychological, behavioral, and hearing tests. A laterality test determined if they were left or right-handed. Results showed that musicians have higher neural connectivity than non-musicians in the default mode network, the brain system which leads to more complex cognitive processes like making crucial decisions or figuring out daily problems. (Related: Music Shown to Facilitate the Development of Neurons in the Brain.)
Miriam Albusac Jorge, the study’s main author, explains that these higher cognitive processes consist of the brain’s most complex tasks which need not just one, but “multiple brain interactions.”
Growing brains need all the help they can to fully develop. This is where early musical training can help.
A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute revealed that childhood musical experiences can enhance brain development, especially where language and reading skills are concerned. The National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM) adds that learning to play a musical instrument can enhance math skills, and even raise an adolescent’s SAT scores.
Music let’s a child’s body and mind work together. Children learn not just the sounds, but the meaning of words. Dancing to the rhythm of the music also develops motor skills and helps children express themselves in non-verbal ways. Children and adults sharpen their memory skills by remembering the sequence of notes in the musical scale.
Here’s a stage-by-stage guide on how to take your child on a musical adventure he will remember long after he’s grown up.
- Infants — Babies are some of the most musical people you can find. They can easily catch on to music, imitate sounds, and sway to the rhythm of the song as soon as they’re physically up to it. Calm background music like lullabies can put babies to sleep in an instant. Loud music, on the other hand, may overstimulate babies by increasing the noise level around him. Sing simple, short tunes using a high, soft voice. Try creating one or two lines about his daily activities like taking a bath, dressing up, eating and others. Point to familiar objects like his rubber ducky and create a simple song out of it.
- Toddlers — This age group loves dancing and moving to music. The key to making your toddler appreciate music is song and word repetition. This encourages the use of words and sharpens memory skills. Nonsense songs make toddlers laugh. Take a familiar song and replace the correct word with a silly one, like singing “Twinkle twinkle little dog” instead of “star.” Encourage your toddler to sing along by clapping, jumping, swaying or pointing to objects mentioned in the song.
- Preschoolers — Preschoolers love to sing just because. They’re not self-conscious and are excited to let their voice rise with the melody. They enjoy songs that repeat words and melodies, like Hickory Dickory Dock. They love rhythm with measured beats, and songs that make them do things, like “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” Preschoolers enjoy nursery rhymes and songs about familiar objects like toys, animals, play activities, and people. They also enjoy finger plays and nonsense rhymes, whether or not it has music.
- School-Age Children — Most children this age are intrigued by kids’ sing-along songs that have to do with simple tasks like counting, spelling, or remembering events. Teach them the alphabet song, The 12 Days of Christmas which has lyrics about numbers, and other melodies that teach something. It is at this stage that children show their music preferences. They may even show interest in taking music lessons for beginners.
- Teenagers — Teens may use music to develop friendships and assert their independence. They love hanging out with friends and listening to music after school. Remember those garage bands? Teens often show a strong interest in taking music lessons, joining a band, listening to music and attending concerts.
Whether you’re 16 or 60, you’ll never go wrong with music. This food for the soul is something we can’t have too much of.