Music research indicates that music education not only has the benefits of self-expression and enjoyment, but is linked to improved cognitive function (Schellenberg), increased language development from an early age (Legg), and positive social interaction (Netherwood). Music listening and performance impacts the brain as a whole, stimulating both halves – the analytical brain and the subjective-artistic brain, affecting a child’s overall cognitive development and possibly increasing a child’s overall intellectual capacity more than any other activity affecting the brain’s bilaterism (Yoon).
How does music stimulate the right and left hemispheres?
The right hemisphere engages in synthesizing several different parts to create a cohesive whole when processing new information (Williams). Almost nonlinear in processing information, the right brain is adept at visual imagery. The left hemisphere, sequential and linear in its data processing, moves step by step when processing new information (Williams). Just like any part of the body, any activity that stimulates the brain helps increase its overall functionality. While most activities like visual art, computing, and language largely work in only one hemisphere, music is one of the few activities that stimulates both sides of the brain.
The right brain, often considered the more subjective and creative hemisphere, focuses on the melody in music. The left hemisphere, considered the analytical part of the brain, is responsible for the understanding of musical structure and motor skills, such as playing the violin (Yoon). Rhythmic structures uniquely affect the brain extensively, such as supplementary motor areas and the basal ganglia, especially when compared to musical styles lacking a steady beat pattern (Phillips-Silver). Nonmusical activities, such as walking or martial arts, also aid the brain bilaterally when combined with a steady rhythm (Manjul).
Music Listening vs. Music Performance/Activity
Music research on music education suggests that musical activities like dancing, playing an instrument, and singing demonstrate long term benefits in memory, language development, concentration, and physical agility. (Netherwood, Schellenberg). Added memory and language skills help the average musician gain a better understanding of human language than those who do not engage in musical activities. (Moreno) Long term cognitive and language skills increased for student musicians who maintained long term commitments to music by studying an instrument or engaging in vocal performance.
Some key points to remember:
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Schellenberg, E. (2005). Music and Cognitive Abilities. Current Directions in Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell). 317-320.
Vitale, J.L. (2011). Music Makes You Smarter: A New Paradigm for Music Education?
Netherwood, C. (2007). Music to your ears. Autralian Parents, 64.
Yoon, J. (2000, January 1). Music in the Classroom: Its Influence on Children’s Brain Development, Academic Performance, and Practical Life Skills.
Phillips-Silver, Jessica. (2009, June). On the Meaning of Movement in Music, Development, and the Brain. Contemporary Music Review. Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 293-314.
Williams, Linda. Teaching for the two-sided mind: a guide to right brain/left brain education. Simon & Schuster. 1986.
Bajaj, Manjul. Personal Growth – Cross train your brain. Lifepositive.com. http://www.lifepositive.com/Mind/Personal_Growth/Cross_train_your_brain12003.asp.
Moreno. S. (2009). Can Music Influence Language and Cognition?. Contemporary Music Review, 28 (3), 329.
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