Part 1 of 3: The Effects of Music on the Brain

The Effects of Music on the BrainI have always been interested in Music.  As a child I participated in choir and then instrumental music. My early education was in Europe and when I moved back to North America, I was an ESL student.  I did not know a single English word but found that my language acquisition and mathematical skills developed quickly due to learning and participating in music.  Once I began studying to be a teacher, I was even more interested in how Music aids the learning process.  This post is from my research and will be a 3 part series.  I hope that you will find these interesting and of value as you plan your lessons for your students.

In Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner provides evidence that there are different aspects of intelligence.  He posits that every individual has a diverse learning style and that not all are being addressed in the context of the classroom.  Musical intelligence is identified as an independent intelligence without any association to linguistic, mathematical, or spatial intelligence.  Howard Gardner (1993) wrote “eliciting the use of musical intelligence the learner will be able to better acquire skills and knowledge since the framework of the mind is being utilized” (p.312).  Rauscher, Len and Shaw have brought this argument forward with their research project titled Music Exposure and the Development of the Child’s Brain.

Neurophysiology tells us that at birth, the human brain has 100 billion neurons, which are not connected to form a network.  Connections among neurons are formed rapidly in the early years of life as the growing child experiences and forms attachments to their surrounding world.  Huttenlocher (1984) discovered that if “these synapses are used repeatedly in a child’s day to day life, they are reinforced and become part of the brain’s permanent circuitry. If they are not used repeatedly, or often enough, they are gradually eliminated in the second decade of life” (p. 283).  In essence, as the child grows and the more connections made, opens the door to create a more complex, powerful system of neural pathways.  This is directly related to how the child learns and thinks, and greater academic success in the future. Rauscher, Len and Shaw tested children to discover if music would help create these pathways and discovered that through music instruction, even as little as four months, “children displayed a significant change in spatial temporal reasoning”(p.53).  At risk (low academics, and socioeconomic factors) children displayed a significant increase and other children displayed an above average increase in their abilities to complete tasks that measured recall, tactile and reasoning abilities. The research team also demonstrated measurements of brain activity using an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine, which showed that both the right and left hemispheres of the brain are responsive when listening and creating music.  “When listening to music, both sides of the brain are being activated, one side to follow the rhythm and the other to follow the melody.” (Rauscher, Len, & Shaw, 2002, p. 56). This provides proof that in creating the neural pathways as Huttenlocher described music would create more connections as it is developing the whole brain instead of one side.  Rauscher, Len and Shaw also discovered that “musicians who began their training before age six or seven have a larger left planum temporale and corpus callosum” (p. 32). These results infer that all musical engagements activate both brain hemispheres and involve cerebral cortex activity and memory retrieval mechanisms.   This is the basis for all academic success; having a developed and functioning brain in order to process higher level thinking.

So what does this all mean for us as educators?  See my next post : Music and its Value in Education.

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