Does music make you smarter … longer?

More from my summer reading on brains …

There seems to be scientific evidence that music can, in fact, make you smarter and keep your brain sharp longer as you age.

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“Basically, findings on how music affects the brain indicate that musical training—and perhaps even habitual engagement with listening to and appreciating music—can help the brain enhance its natural neuroplasticity (i.e. build “neural networks”) and improve countless abilities and cognitive skills.” Source

More specifically…

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Numerous studies have indicated the musicians literally have more brain gray matter:

Researchers found that the brains of professional musicians have a higher volume of gray matter in portions of their brains responsible for auditory processing and motor functions.

Amateur musicians had slightly less gray matter, and non-musicians had least of all. Source

Why is that?

Playing an instrument requires a combination of auditory, visual, physical and cognitive skills.

[The] cognitive enhancement effects of musical training … is due to a combination of skills required by music study, such as:

  • decoding visual information into motor activity
  • memorizing extended passages of music
  • learning music structures and rules
  • learning to make fine auditory spectral and temporal discriminations   Source

So, what to do?

If you already play an instrument … keep playing it, the more the better … and, consider learning another different instrument type.

If you don’t play an instrument, learn one.  You can start with online lessons using a cheap electronic key board … or dust of the simple flute that you tooted in elementary school music classes.

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At a minimum … just listen.

As cited above: “Even habitual engagement with listening” has positive cognitive effects.

For example:

  • Playing soothing background music (think: classical, jazz or very soft rock) can have a soothing, meditative effect on the brain.
  • Listening to golden oldies can trigger (and strengthen) the processes for recovering latent long-term memories (think: when, where and why you originally heard the songs)
  • Attending concerts  can have the above two benefits … as well as socialization.

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Bottom line: Music can enlarge your gray matter, enhance your cognitive abilities (i.e. make you smarter) … and potentially prolong your mental acuity.

All with little downside … save for annoying your neighbors with a squeaky violin or unappreciated booming heavy metal playlists.

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