How playing music makes you smarter

By Suzanna Gilbert

DMACC Honors Student

Guest Columnist

 

         When asked about our involvement in music, how many of us find ourselves saying, “well, I used to play…”? Or have you ever been interested in playing but never gotten around to it? Nearly 40% of students are involved with music in high school (“Monitoring the Future” study by the University of Michigan), but a lot of people stop playing their instruments after they graduate. Only 7.6% of adults age 19 and older play a musical instrument at least once a year (Bittman et. al). For many, it’s because they have less time in college, and after leaving the structured environment of music lessons, high school band/orchestra, and nagging parents, there is less motivation to practice. College students who are not majoring in music may feel that playing their instrument is not important anymore. Although these reasons are completely understandable, continuing to play music in college and throughout adulthood is a worthwhile effort because of its many benefits.

     

          You may have heard the argument for exercising regularly; yes, it takes time out of our busy lives, but that time is well worth it. Even a little exercise refreshes our bodies and minds, allowing us to focus on our daily tasks with renewed energy. Similarly, playing music comes with hidden benefits that increase our capacity in many other areas. Anita Collins from TED-Ed remarked that “playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout”. Different stimuli such as language, pictures, or physical touch are processed in different areas of the brain. But music is processed simultaneously in several areas. Actually playing music shows the most activity of all; brain scans of musicians have revealed “fireworks” going off all over their brain as they play. All this activity strengthens the connection between the left and right hemispheres and different areas within them. Because of this, musicians have been found to have more efficient memories, by linking memories to multiple areas of the brain (TED-Ed). Because playing music requires emotional, cognitive, and fine motor skill, those involved in making music have demonstrated a higher ability to understand language, learn new languages, give attention to detail, listen attentively, be creative, and think critically and in both academic and social situations. People who receive music training have also been shown to be more motivated and enthusiastic students and have a higher IQ (Tom Barnes; “Music Lessons Were the Best Thing Your Parents Ever Did for You, According to Science”).

     

         The benefits of playing music reach beyond the mind as well. Playing music has been shown to improve one’s mood and reduce stress significantly, reversing “the body’s response to stress at the DNA-level” (Dr. Barry Bittman). There is a reason that music therapy is widely used for a number of health and mental disorders, like heart disease and PTSD. In one study, patients recovering from surgery showed lowered heart rates, regulated blood pressures, and calmed respiration rates after playing music (Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Neb., and St. Mary’s Hospital in Mequon, Wis.). Studies have also shown that creating music can reduce depression significantly after just a few weeks. I can personally attest to the truth of these statistics. I have been involved with music for several years, playing violin, piano, and flute. I am prone to anxiety, and playing music has become one of my favorite ways to relax my mind and cheer up my mood. It’s the perfect study break.

     

          So, even though college can be a very busy phase of life, consider taking a little time to enjoy playing the instrument you learned in high school, or pick up a new instrument. The amount of self-taught musicians has increased over the years, with the explosion of easily accessible information all around us in the form of YouTube videos, internet articles, learning apps, etc. Never has there been an easier time to learn an instrument on your own. However, if taking lessons suits you better (or you need that extra push), DMACC offers private lessons for piano, voice, and most band/orchestra instruments. These are significantly cheaper than most non-institutional private lessons, and you earn a DMACC credit in the meantime. There are several ways to acquire an instrument. You can buy an instrument new for many levels of pricing or rent one. Craigslist and eBay often have good deals on secondhand instruments. If you’re still lost, talk to a DMACC music instructor or visit a music store. Whatever you do, make it fun! Learn your favorite song. Get together and make music with your friends (or join the DMACC pep band). Perhaps you will find as I have, that it’s well worth the time.

         

Suzanna Gilbert is from Ames, Iowa, and is currently attending DMACC Boone campus. She will graduate in May with a Liberal Arts AS degree. She will transfer in the fall to Brigham Young University, where she plans to major in an area of applied math with a minor in music.