Music Doesn’t Make You Smarter—It Does Something Better
Researchers have studied the effect of music on the brain for decades, and they have come up with a lot of different theories about how our brains respond to the music we listen to. Some of those theories have been disproved. For example, a 2013 study debunked the idea that listening to certain types of music can make you smarter. Sorry, Baby Einstein.
However, as our ability to observe the brain has improved with technology, scientists have been able to demonstrate other positive affects that result from interaction with quality music.
If Music Doesn’t Make You Smarter, What Does It Do?
IQ is a measure of your intelligence, but what it doesn’t measure is your brain’s ability to change over time. Researchers today are focusing on how musical study helps your brain perform certain tasks more efficiently.
In one fascinating study, researchers compared the auditory working memory of people who had musical training with that of non-musicians. Musicians of all ages outperformed their peers on tasks like picking speech out of background noise and identifying specific sounds.
Okay, but who cares? Well, it turns out these skills are important for speech and language development in children, and they also last well into adulthood. Elderly people who have had musical training retain their ability to hear sounds in a noisy environment longer than those who have had no such training.
Another organization known as Music and Memory uses music to connect with Alzheimer patients. The music those patients listened to over the course of their lives remains deeply entrenched in their brains, even when they can’t remember basic life details or family members. Music connects to something inside them and produces a calming effect that keeps them from becoming agitated and even helps facilitate conversation and social interaction that might not otherwise be possible.
Why Should You Care?
What do studies like this tell us? Our brains are capable of being trained based on the environment we grow up in. While playing Mozart for your baby may not automatically make him or her smarter, engaging in a lifelong study of music can and will train the brain to become more adept at performing certain tasks.
As a musician, I always get excited about sharing my love of music with people around me. I want everyone to experience the excitement of learning to appreciate and even perform music skillfully. And there’s overwhelming evidence that music has a long-lasting effect on your brain.
Now, let’s bring this down to where we live. All these studies may be fascinating, but how should they influence our lives today? Let me answer that question with a question: As a child of God, what kind of music do you want to become part of your soul, so deeply entrenched that it remains even when you can’t remember the names of your grandchildren? Do you want to be humming the Top 40 from several decades before, or do you want timeless music that points your heart to Christ?
Am I saying you shouldn’t listen to secular or fun music? Absolutely not. But I am saying that our musical choices matter. They matter now, and they will matter decades from now. Let’s be intentional in the music we choose.