The effects of listening to music are known to many people because the effects range from relaxation to excitement. However, the effects upon the brain development of performing musicians is not as common of a phenomenon simply because there are less musicians than there are listeners of music. This essay is interested in certain people who are musically gifted and train as musicians from an early age. After performing research, it is evident that there are differences in the brain structure of musicians who have trained since they were young, from the brains of others. For the purposes of this essay, the effects of musical training on the brain will be explored. It is possible that musical training satisfies a survival need that is deep-seeded within human nature. Furthermore, musical training has applications outside of musical performance, such as a learning aid, because of the way that it impacts brain development. This essay argues that musical training is a strenuous and healthy method to increase brain plasticity.Musical training. It can be argued that there is no other endeavor that requires as much of the brain as music demands from the human mind (Miendlarzewska & Trost, 2014). What is meant by this statement is that musical training stimulates a multisensory motor experience (Miendlarzewska & Trost, 2014). Being able to play an instrument, or sing, requires a skillset that includes reading a complex symbolic system, translating it into bimanual output with metric precision, sometimes relying upon memory or improvisation (Miendlarzewska & Trost, 2014). Furthermore, musical performance requires the timing with others who are going through the same neuro-experience (Miendlarzewska & Trost, 2014). The significant aspect of musical training is that it stimulates the brain in multiple ways which lead to increased plasticity of the brain through the use of the neural networks.
One of the most demanding parts of playing an instrument is sight reading. The reason that this is one of the most demanding parts of playing an instrument is that it requires the musician to simultaneously process vast amounts of information in a short period of time (Miendlarzewska & Trost, 2014). Since one must pay attention to everything in music, the effects upon the brain are beneficial. Having formal musical training is something that sharpens attentional and executive brain functions through the stimulation of different neural pathways (Miendlarzewska & Trost, 2014).
Musical training as a survival mode. Humans are animals and our brains are wired for survival. Part of survival is procreation. It has been researched that musical training is something that wires the brain towards survival because any mind that has the luxury of indulging in music must have all other parts of survival accomplished: “Music making is a reasonable index of biological fitness, and so a manifestation of sexual selection—analogous to the peacock’s tail. Anyone who can afford the biological luxury of making music must be strong and healthy” [italics] (Schäfer, Sedlmeier, Städtler, & Huron, 2013). Therefore, it is possible that musical training enhances the ability to survive sexual selection.
Musical training builds upon a foundational skill. The human brain has been found to have neuro circuits which respond to musical rules, i.e. chord progressions, beat, harmony, whether one is a trained musician or not (Herholz & Zatorre, 2012). Somehow, there is implicit understanding of the musical laws, even for novices and untrained musicians: “These results seem to indicate that passive exposure to music alone is sufficient to alter the neural response to musical sounds to some extent” (Herholz & Zatorre, 2012). If the neural response can be passively altered simply by listening to music, then the impact of the neural response from non-passive musical involvement, such as intensive musical training, is understandably significant.
Musical training as a learning device to increase reading skills. Because of the significant way that musical training has been proven to impact the ability to learn through increasing the plasticity of the brain, it has now been used as a learning aid for struggling readers (Gordon, Fehd, & McCandliss, 2015). By listening to music, struggling readers are able to identify with rhythm and meter (Gordon, Fehd, & McCandliss, 2015). Often the issues that hold a reader up can be solved through stimulating the neural pathways that are unstimulated without musical training (Gordon, Fehd, & McCandliss, 2015). Therefore, musical training has proven itself to improve neural plasticity because it has helped struggling readers put together words that, prior to musical training, did not make sense.
In conclusion, musical training is without a doubt something that increases brain plasticity because of the unique demands that music requires of the performer. This plasticity can be helped in many areas of one’s brain development; it seems that music is the missing piece to the puzzle when it comes to brain development. It is likely that the synapses that musical training exercises creates plasticity in other areas of the brain. Furthermore, musical performance is itself a multisensory experience. Therefore, the effects of musical training on the brain are that in increases plasticity, and it has applications that are above and beyond performing music. The recommendation of this author is to start one’s children in music at an early age—after all, it certainly will not harm a developing mind, and the evidence is strong that musical training may be the single most efficient way to develop a young person’s mind.
- Gordon, R. L., Fehd, H. M., & McCandliss, B. D. (2015). does music training enhance literacy skills? A meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1777. doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01777
- Herholz, S. & Zatorre, R. (2012). Musical training as a framework for brain plasticity: behavior, function, and structure. Neuron, 76(3). doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2012.10.011
- Miendlarzewska, E. & Trost, W. (2014). How musical training affects cognitive development: rhythm, reward and other modulating variables. Frontiers in Neuroscience. doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2013.00279
- Schäfer, T., Sedlmeier, P., Städtler, C., & Huron, D. (2013). The psychological functions of music listening. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 511. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00511