Music and its effect on the brain

Music and its effect on the brain

The findings that started the hype around the “Mozart Effect” were the results of experiments that Frances Rauscher and her colleagues Shaw and Ky conducted with college students. After they listened to Mozart’s sonatas the students had a temporary gain in spatial reasoning skills.

Products for people of all ages including children still in their mother’s womb were marketed by Don Campbell and others as the way to use the “Mozart Effect” to raise smarter children and become a smarter adult. No research has shown that just listening causes a permanent change in brain function.

Gottfried Schlaug found evidence that professional musicians, especially those who began studying music before age 7, have different physical brain characteristics than adults who similar non-musicians. Current research findings indicate that studying music and playing it is the way to improve brain function.

Recent Studies

Music effects several regions of the brain including those that sights, sounds, emotions and memories. The following studies appear to back up this statement:

In 2006 the German Research Ministry funded research by scientists in the fields of neuroscience, philosophy, psychology and education to determine if there is a measurable improvement in cognitive thinking connected to listening to Mozart’s music. The results reported by Ralph Schumacher declare that there is no lasting improvement to intelligence from listening to music. However, he suggested that the effect of learning to play a musical instrument may be worth further study.

Glenn Schallenberg a psychologist at University of Toronto has been studying the effect of music instruction on IQ scores. In 2004 he found that 6-year-olds who learned to play keyboard or had voice lessons showed a gain of 3 points in their IQ.

Gottfried Schlaug, a Harvard neuroscientist is working with patients who have suffered strokes and Parkinson’s disease. Stroke victims can sing or rhythmically chant phrases when they can’t speak them. Gottfried Schlaug says “after just a few minutes with therapists, who asked them to sing phrases and tap their hands to the rhythm, the patients could sing “Happy Birthday,” recite their addresses, and communicate if they were thirsty.”

Nina Kraus, Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, University of Illinois has found musicians can hear the relevant sounds above din—this skill is used to hear a conversation in a noisy room and to concentrate when surrounded by distractions. Applying this skill to learning in group situations like the typical classroom increases a student’s chances of focusing on the task at hand in spite of distractions.

So, while it is clear that music has an effect, only in using music as a basis for teaching skills (i.e. learning to play an instrument, or sing) has long term benefits.