Music practice changes the brain. Heck, just about everything we do changes the brain, so this is, of course, no surprise. But music practice changes the brain in specific, and interesting ways. No, music will not make you smarter. Baby Einstein is an ingenious way to separate concerned parents from their money. I think it’s great that young kids get to listen to great music, but as for getting smarter? Pipe dream. Doesn’t happen. But musicians do have skills that non-musicians don’t have. For more about the topic, check out chapter 2: Your Plastic Brain in The Practice of Practice.
Musicians who have practiced a long time have the ability to hear better than those who haven’t practiced. Some examples tested empirically are the ability to separate a voice out from a jumbled background (the “cocktail party” effect), an ability we all have called auditory stream segmentation, but musicians do it better, especially as we get older, when it’s particularly valuable. Long-time musicians can also hear emotion in a baby’s voice better. There are a lot more musical super-powers. Check out these studies from Nina Kraus’s lab at Northwestern University, one of the top auditory neuroscience labs in the US. For some great information, go here and watch the slide shows.
We’re still learning how music and language are related in the brain. Here’s a fascinating 2009 operation during with the patient, professional violinist Roger Frish, played violin as surgeons operated so they didn’t damage any of the brain tissue he needed to play the violin.
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