For centuries people have been aware of the effect of music on emotion, how it can create sorrow, joy, romance, inspiration. It has been only recently, however, that scientists have studied other effects that music can have on the brain, including one that had been suspected but never proved: music makes you smarter.
That is, playing music makes you smarter. The long held popular belief that listening to classical music, even by babies in the womb, would improve people’s intellectual capacity, has been refuted by recent studies. It turns out the so-called Mozart effect doesn’t work very well after all.
At least, not if all you do is listen. Playing is another matter. Studies have shown that learning to play a musical instrument has a profound effect on the brain’s learning centers. It enhances not just your hearing abilities, but also memory and the ability of your brain to process complex information.
Music particularly increases the capability of the brain’s language centers, leading to greater verbal acuity, easing the learning of second languages. It even makes it easier to recognize the emotional clues in the tones and pitch of people’s voices, increasing social acuity.
Because younger brains have more plasticity, the advantages of musical training are more pronounced in those who begin at an early age. The benefits have been demonstrated in those of all ages, however, and in the elderly may even help to prevent the decline of memory and other mental functions. It’s never too late to start.