Music, Brain Function, and Intelligence

 Music Makes You Smarter.

“Contrary to the old simplistic notion that art and music are processed in the right hemisphere of our brains, with language and mathematics in the left, recent findings from my laboratory and those of my colleagues are showing us that music is distributed throughout the brain.  Through studies of people with brain damage, we’ve seen patients who have lost the ability to read a newspaper but can still read music, or individuals who can play the piano but lack the motor coordination to button their own sweater.  Music listening, performance, and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have so far identified, and involve nearly every neural subsystem.  Could this fact account for claims that music listening exercises other parts of our minds;  that listening to Mozart twenty minutes a day will make us smarter?”

                  from:  Daniel J. Levitin, This Is Your Brain On Music  The Science of a Human Obsession, pages 8-9

6 thoughts on “Music, Brain Function, and Intelligence

  1. This is an interesting notion. In my partnership, Im the musical one, with literary skills, and some artistic skills, my girlfriend is the Artist and the Mathematician. Professionally, we interact so seamlessly, it feels like 2 halves coming together…so in that light, perhaps the original premise holds…but she perceives me as being extremely intelligent (modesty forbids!) so, has a lifetime of writing, listening, an performing music enhanced my brain as a whole?


  2. Interesting question that you raise regarding the possibility that “doing” music and/or art somehow exercises the whole brain in such a way as to raise IQ, which is only one of the measures of brain functioning. Apparently, the answer is “yes,” according to recent research in neuroscience. For example, an article in the current issue of Tricycle (The Buddhist Review) cites a book by Sharon Begley, “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain,” that describes how thought processes and meditation can actually reprogram the brain. One quote from the article: “The findings are astounding; neuroscientists have discovered … that even THINKING about playing the piano can enhance the structure of your brain’s tactile and motor sections. The equivalent holds true when focusing on kindness and compassion.” This reinforces my earlier claim (which I may have posted in your blog) that I’ve been practicing my trumpet (and, it seems, the piano at the same time) for hours every day WITHOUT EVER TOUCHING THE INSTRUMENT(s).

    The sad part of all this is that it will take several eons of bureaucratic dithering before we incorporate these findings into meaningful educational reforms. Meanwhile, we have the WASL and the resulting narrow focus on a few skills that the corporations seem to think they need, while we ignore teaching creativity (which corporations also sorely need, but which most of them can’t tolerate). Reminds me of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

    But I digress; back to music. The findings of neuroscience raise some other interesting questions, such as: Why are YOU listening — or, better, playing — music? Is music a “means” or an “end”? If the former, what is the “end”? Each of us would do well to give some thought to these questions, because our own personal answers might surprise us.

    BTW, Are you aware that there’s another book out in a similar vein to Levitin’s? It’s “Musicophilia” by Oliver Sacks, MD. I don’t have it yet, but soon….


  3. Music, like education and time, is a subject on which EVERYONE has an opinion. I am fascinated by the power of music to elevate people and am looking at ways to bring music into the workplace (even those serious, stiff work places where the need is presumably bigger).


  4. George, the things you mention have been shown in many ways. And it is good to see it confirmed.
    I heard about a study with people who had never played tennis before. One group had to practice tennis for a while. The second group had to think about playing tennis. After some time, they played against each other, people from the first group against those from the second. It turned out that the people from second group played much better than people from the first. It’s a pitty I have no sources of this study. But it does not surprise me.
    I have experienced the same with dance. And even with playing pinball, by watching someone play pinball very well, all of a sudden I played it very well too, just like that.


  5. After reading about “the Mozart effect” in Levitin’s book cited above, i read a book recommended by my psychiatrist sister: “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge which deals with neuroplasticity. i am currently undergoing listening therapy using Mozart recordings filtered through a sophisticated graphic equalizer. The jury is still out on that one. Will report back in the future.
    However, looking back on my own history, it is abundantly clear that i became vastly more integrated into the fabric of human existence, awareness, and enrichment when i became a musician at the age of 12.


  6. @Moheana, if you ever find that study, am all ears (tennis aficionado).
    @Craig Buhler: Neuroplasticity is a fascinating topic… so many new findings about what we can do with THAT muscle. BTW I started playing music when I was 16… it is also a fabulous way to connect with other musicians.


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