Living in Atherton Hall comes with many perks. It’s close to downtown, we have private bathrooms, and we have several rooms dedicated to aid our musical ambitions.
We have two soundproof music rooms, where students can practice their instruments, and, of course, our iconic Grandfather Clock Lounge, where our baby grand piano resides (and a piano, I might add, you can hear all hours of the night).
Obviously, administrators feel like music is important in developing scholars, or else they wouldn’t waste the space, money, or energy creating soundproof rooms or providing us with instruments to play.
My parents also held this belief, insisting that I play the piano when I started second grade, and allowing me to choose to play the clarinet in 4th grade. I heard throughout my life that music would make me a better student, expand my creativity, and even help with my memory. But, I never thought to look into those theories to see if they were true.
However, I think the point of this class is to learn how to use evidence to draw conclusions ourselves; so, I figured, why not research a theory I’ve been wondering about my whole life?
The first study I found referencing the positive effects music-playing can have on people included an experiment containing 30 adults and 27 children, all with differing levels of musical experience. These individuals were observed in order to find a correlation between executive function and the amount of musical training a particular subject had. As discussed in my psychology class, executive function helps control our attention, memory, decision-making, and problem solving. So, in theory, if this study showed (using fMRI) that executive function increased in adults and children that were exposed to music in great quantities, the subjects of the experiment would theoretically be better at school, paying attention, and generally better at decision making.
In this particular study, the musically-inclined adults and children demonstrated that they did, in fact, increase in their performance in measures of language fluency, processing rate, and memory. Since the group of adults and children who frequently were involved in music scored higher on the executive function tests, it can be concluded that the original hypothesis (stating musical training can make individuals perform better in academic settings and heighten their intellectual skills) can be confirmed.
Another source states that musicians hold a greater ability to utilize sensory information from senses such as touch, hearing, and sight (which makes sense, if you think about how musicians read music, play their instrument, and hear the music they make). The source also found that the positive effects of music are most effective if children begin playing an instrument before they reach seven years old.
Yunxin Wang, a Professor at Beijing Normal University, conducted a specific study where 48 Chinese adults (who had a music background) between the ages of 19 and 21 were tested to see what kind of impacts music had on them. These individuals started their training from the ages of 3 – 15, and the study suggested that the individuals who started training earlier had strengthened brain areas tied to verbal and executive functioning. So, for example, the individuals who started playing an instrument before the age of seven usually had a larger cortex in regards to sound processing and positive self-consciousness.
In conclusion, there are actually quite a few studies that prove playing an instrument improves neural stimulation and aids children in their academic abilities. However, TIME magazine notes that children have to do more than just sit through music lessons and listen to music, TIME states in order for students to gain the positive benefits of playing an instrument, students must engage in class and continuously practice their craft.
Now that I know playing an instrument can aid my intellectual abilities and improve my executive functioning skills, I regret quitting the piano and clarinet. But who knows, maybe the baby grand located in Atherton hall will persuade me to take up the art once again.