Making Music Makes You Smarter: Here’s Why

April 2021: A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, BeInkandescent Health & Wellness magazine  Any fan of music (and who isn’t) knows that music has the power to make you feel happy, sad, nostalgic, or energetic enough to run a marathon.

It also has the ability to make you smarter, especially if you start young. According to a study by researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, “Music training not only helps children develop fine motor skills, but it also aids emotional and behavioral maturation as well.”

Here’s how they know.

Using a database from the National Institutes of Health Magnetic Resonance, scientists analyzed the brain scans of 232 healthy children ages six to 18, specifically looking at brain development in children who play instruments.

“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument,” said James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth, and Families, “it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management, and emotional control.”

The cortex, the brain’s outer layer, changes in thickness as a child grows and develops. Previously, Hudziak and colleagues Matthew Albaugh and Eileen Crehan found relationships between cortical thickening and thinning in various areas of the brain responsible for depression, aggression, and attention problems.

This research, announced last month in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, was different.

“I wanted to look at positive things, what we believe benefits child development,” Hudziak said. “What I was surprised by was the emotional regulatory regions. Everyone in our culture knows if I lift 5-pound, 10-pound, 15-pound weights, my biceps will get bigger. The same is true for the brain. We shouldn’t be surprised we can train the brain.”

Because the study’s participants were all mentally healthy children, Hudziak thinks the positive effect of music training on those who are not could be significant. “A kid may still have ADHD,” he said. “It’s the storm around it that improves.”

This month’s cover story proves the point.

In musicians Ellen Harper and Sam Barry’s new book, Always a Song, you’ll find a collection of stories about the life of the folk music matriarch — including nurturing her son Ben Harper who grew up to become a Grammy-winning musician. Jackson Browne calls it: “An eloquent searching account of a life lived for truth, love, and music.”

Click here to read the entire April 2021 issue of BeInkandscent Health & Wellness magazine, which features an article by Ben Harper on what it was like to grow up surrounded by music.

Research study sources: American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry
National Institutes of HealthThe Washington Post • Photo by Dominique caponier, creative commons