11 Steps to a better brain – music
Music may tune up your thinking, but you can’t just crank up the volume and expect to become a genius.
A decade ago Frances Rauscher and her colleagues made waves with the discovery that listening to Mozart improved people’s mathematical and spatial reasoning. This was called the Mozart Effect
Even rats ran mazes faster and more accurately after hearing Mozart than after white noise or music by the minimalist composer Philip Glass.
In 2004, Rauscher reported that, for rats at least, a Mozart piano sonata seems to stimulate activity in three genes involved in nerve-cell signalling in the brain.This sounds like the most harmonious way to tune up your mental faculties.
Not everyone who has looked for the Mozart effect has found it. What’s more, even its proponents tend to think that music boosts brain power simply because it makes listeners feel better — relaxed and stimulated at the same time — and that a comparable stimulus might do just as well. In fact, one study found that listening to a story gave a similar performance boost.
There is, however, one way in which music really does make you smarter, though unfortunately it requires a bit more effort than just selecting something mellow on your iPod.
Music lessons are the key. Six-year-old children who were given music lessons, as opposed to drama lessons or no extra instruction, got a 2 to 3-point boost in IQ scores compared with the others.
Similarly, Rauscher found that after two years of music lessons, pre-school children scored better on spatial reasoning tests than those who took computer lessons.
Maybe music lessons exercise a range of mental skills, with their requirement for delicate and precise finger movements, and listening for pitch and rhythm, all combined with an emotional dimension. Nobody knows for sure.
By Mark O’Brien 2015, taken from an article originally published in New Scientist Magazine, Issue 250
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