What Can Music Do For Your Brain?

If you think about your time at school, you probably remember compulsory classes such as maths, English and science being imposed as the foundation of your education. But what if music was also considered to be essential to your development throughout these years? What if you discovered that starting it now could be the key to unlocking your own genius? Dr. Anita Collins, an Australian educator and researcher in the area of neuroscience and music education, explains that music education might have a much bigger effect on your brain than you realise.

Two decades worth of research by neuroscientists has revealed that the brain of a musician not only functions differently (and in most cases more effectively), but it even looks physically different. If you looked at the brain of someone who can read music and learnt to play an instrument from a young age, you would see that their brain is denser than the brain of a non-musician. Dr. Collins explains, “The brain is actually bigger, it folds in on itself more and is 30 percent denser in grey matter. This means that there are more neural pathways, more places to store information.” It also means that it is harder for the brain tissue to shrink, as it does when it is affected by diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

And what does this do in terms of function? “You require less of the brain to do the same activity, you use less energy which makes it more efficient. There is more time and space for the brain to rest or do something else. Messages travel around the brain much faster and they go in more direct routes,” says Dr. Collins. She revealed that because the messages are travelling faster through the brain, you reach the obvious answer quickly. This leaves time for the brain to explore less obvious answers, which is what we call “creativity”.

Now whilst it is acknowledged that music education is most beneficial to the brain if it is started before the age of seven, it has been seen to still have a positive impact after this time frame. Dr. Collins refers to a study that was done on teenagers who had not previously had a formal music education. “They saw changes in their brains after undertaking music education, their higher order thinking skills developed further. Their emotional responses were more regulated and their impulse control improved, which is very difficult in teenage years,” she says. It is widely recognised that the brain does not reach maturity until approximately the age of 25, which means that in theory we could apply this study to millennials even up until this age. Additionally, this sort of physiological change is permanent whilst the brain is still developing.

So maybe taking up an instrument after school wouldn’t be such a bad investment, and even if you are already over 25, the positive effects don’t end there. “Taking up an instrument is still a learning activity. It’s like learning a new language, or to use a new computer program, and any learning activity is beneficial to the brain,” says Dr. Collins.

We tend to have our reservations about starting music lessons after childhood, when really we should be strongly encouraging it at any age.

To find out more, visit www.anitacollinsmusic.com to watch her TEDxTalk.
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