What's So Great About Music? Part Two.


Well, here we are for part two of this series. I've gone and dug into a bunch of academic stuff for this one. I feel like making some points that might shut up the people who think music is a flakey pastime, a misuse of otherwise valuable time. You know... the types who'll look down on a musician they meet randomly in the same day that they're jamming to their favorite tunes. I'm not saying that anybody reading this is such a person. I'm just making sure I share as much ammunition for the full and thorough support of music as I can. So, you can use it as quickly and perhaps more effectively than I. Let's get to work. Here come the scientists...


The University of California Press published a study. Here's their abbreviated fancy scientific talk:


The present study investigated whether the association between music lessons and intelligence is mediated by executive functions... These (set shifting, selective attention, planning, inhibition, and fluency) were assessed in 9 to 12-year-old children with varying amounts of music lessons. Significant associations emerged between music lessons and ALL of the measures of executive function. Executive functions mediated the association between music lessons and intelligence, with the measures of selective attention and inhibition being the strongest contributors to the mediation effect. Our results suggest that at least part of the association between music lessons and intelligence is explained by the positive influence music lessons have on executive functions, which in turn improve performance on intelligence tests.


Here's my layman's translation:


Students in the study focused better and were less inhibited, so they performed better, thanks to music. While my brain recovers, let me run down a few things I've known for some years now...


There are countless studies about the benefits of music education and how it enhances all other forms of education. Math and science have been a part of this discussion for a long time. Studies have often shown an improvement in math and science scores with music students. I recall one report that explained why the highest per capita math scores in the developed world showed up in Hungary; every kid in every grade in every school was required to learn music. Their orchestras aren't so bad, either. In some past cultures, music was taught as a science. Additionally, I've seen studies pointing to improved cognitive and analytical skills, and even one that said 66% of medical school students had studied music. What has my own experience shown?


I've had myriad students who were diagnosed with various learning disabilities. What I've focused on with them is based in one kind of study in particular. When brain scans have been done on people while they played music, they've (the science folks) noted that the entire brain lit up. With most mental or physical activities, only a portion of the brain would light up in scans. This wide activity across right and left brain indicates that new pathways can be found. In fact, the corpus callosum (the membrane between right and left brain) has been found to be more developed in musicians. I'm no scientist, but I've read a lot and even inquired with scientists who were music students of mine. I read a story about a neurologist whose father had a stroke that killed the part of his brain used for walking. Instead of wasting time on physical therapy like his doctors wanted, the neurologist took her father through the processes of crawling, toddling, and then walking. Brain scans she did along the way indicated that new pathways were created through the areas of the brain that still functioned. What does this indicate to this excited musician? The answer to why students with learning disabilities were able to "get around" their disabilities while learning guitar; The brain used the higher level of activity produced by playing an instrument to find new pathways, thus avoiding the tricky triggers that were the apparent cause of the cognitive disabilities. I watched my students' grades in school increase without any apparent additional efforts on their part. I ran this all past a bass student of mine who was, literally, a brain surgeon. She confirmed the distinct possibility of this. She also explained a few other things that I share with students about practice. She also found bass a very challenging instrument. So there... if you're struggling with an instrument, even the brain surgeon does. I can't speak for any rocket scientists, as of yet.


Another study, by Taylor & Francis gave this summary in response to so many studies showing results in a few specific areas.


There is considerable interest in the potential non‐musical cognitive and academic benefits of music listening and instruction to children. This report describes three lines of research relevant to this issue, namely, the effects of: (1) focused music listening on subsequent task performance (the Mozart effect); (2) music instruction; and (3) background music listening. Research suggests that... Mozart effect studies... cannot be reliably demonstrated in children. In contrast, music instruction confers consistent benefits for spatiotemporal reasoning skills; however, improvements in associated academic domains, such as arithmetic, have not been reliably shown. Finally, background music may calm and focus children with special education needs, thereby enhancing learning... Overall, evidence for the non‐musical benefits of music listening and instruction is limited. The inherent value of music and music education should not be overlooked by narrowly focusing on cognitive and academic outcomes.


That last line is the key here: The inherent value of music and music education should not be overlooked by narrowly focusing on cognitive and academic outcomes. Let's not feel like we need to show academic reasons for music education. How about we just enjoy it for what it is; music, an art form, a much loved and partaken-in creative performance art. As Joseph Campbell said, "our highest art form and the closest humans come to their gods." (The Power of Myth)


While I actually am fine with the scientific approach and continuing to question things and dig more deeply, I want there to be a wider acceptance of what we've already come to see consistent evidence of. So, in addition to the examples I've shared and these excerpts from recent studies, I'm going to give you one list. Who doesn't love a good list? This is courtesy of big pharma, no less! That's right! They can't possibly profit from this! So, quick, before they catch on and put a patent on it, copy this list down:


10 Health Benefits of Music

Courtesy of Pfizer


1. Improves mood. Studies show that listening to music can benefit overall well-being, help regulate emotions, and create happiness and relaxation in everyday life.


2. Reduces stress. Listening to ‘relaxing’ music (generally considered to have slow tempo, low pitch, and no lyrics) has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in healthy people and in people undergoing medical procedures (e.g., surgery, dental, colonoscopy).


3. Lessens anxiety. In studies of people with cancer, listening to music combined with standard care reduced anxiety compared to those who received standard care alone.


4. Improves exercise. Studies suggest that music can enhance aerobic exercise, boost mental and physical stimulation, and increase overall performance.


5. Improves memory. Research has shown that the repetitive elements of rhythm and melody help our brains form patterns that enhance memory. In a study of stroke survivors, listening to music helped them experience more verbal memory, less confusion, and better focused attention.


6. Eases pain. In studies of patients recovering from surgery, those who listened to music before, during, or after surgery had less pain and more overall satisfaction compared with patients who did not listen to music as part of their care.


7. Provides comfort. Music therapy has also been used to help enhance communication, coping, and expression of feelings such as fear, loneliness, and anger in patients who have a serious illness, and who are in end-of-life care.


8. Improves cognition. Listening to music can also help people with Alzheimer’s recall seemingly lost memories and even help maintain some mental abilities. (Once again!)


9. Helps children with autism spectrum disorder. Studies of children with autism spectrum disorder who received music therapy showed improvement in social responses, communication skills, and attention skills.


10. Soothes premature babies. Live music and lullabies may impact vital signs, improve feeding behaviors and sucking patterns in premature infants, and may increase prolonged periods of quiet–alert states. (I was two months premature. I wonder if my mom, the musician, knew this.)



I didn't see anything about side effects next to this list, but happiness and quality of life might be a couple.


So, what's so great about music? Science and your medical providers apparently see some benefits. What about how it effects us at a deeper level? That's my next bit. Thanks for reading. Now, go turn on some tunes.


Peace and music.












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