How music enhances our brain capacity

Learning and playing music is not only enjoyable, sociable, and expressive — it also develops our brains. A quick and fun summary of how this works can be viewed in a short animated video from TED-Ed-Lessons.

The video discusses neuroscientific research from the past few decades, which has revealed connections between activities and brain activity in real time. Scientists have found that each activity seems to have a corresponding location of the brain, where those efforts are processed.

Listening to music, however, appears to fire up multiple areas across the brain simultaneously, and even more brain activity among those who actually play music. The process of playing music results in intricate, complex, and incredibly fast signals in all parts of the brain, especially, auditory, motor, and visual centers. Regular musical practice appears to strengthen those brain functions, allowing musicians to apply them to all sorts of activities.

In particular, playing and practicing music increases  the volume and activity of the corpus colossum, the bridge between the linguistic and mathematical left side of the brain, and the creative and expressive right side, allowing messages between the two sides to pass through faster and via more diverse routes.

This development ties into higher executive brain function, which involves skills in planning, strategizing, attention to detail, and coordination of both cognitive and emotional information. Learning music has the potential of helping people excel in problem-solving that is needed in all sorts of academic and social settings.

Developing musical skills also enhances memory. Musicians have been found to attach multiple tags to their memories — conceptual, audio, emotional, contextual — so that memories can be more quickly and easily found and connected to other thoughts.
What’s also fascinating is that these benefits seem to be specific to music, and not just any art or other activity.

In the last couple of years, MIT researchers have published findings that certain neurons in our brains are tuned in specifically to processing the sound of music, suggesting that music may have played an important role in the evolution of the human nervous system. Taken together with the finding of musical instruments from as far back as 70,000 years ago, it’s clear that music is essential to human society.

It reminds me of the movie Night at the Museum, where Ben Stiller’s character is going tit-for-tat with the monkey, and Robin Williams’s Teddy Roosevelt character keeps saying, “Who’s evolved?  Who’s evolved?”  I suppose the answer is:  Musicians!

©2018 Ed Pearlman

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