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August 7, 2013
by Ashley Marie

Wednesday Wisdom: Does Your Music Make You Smarter or Dumber?

August 7, 2013 03:00 by Ashley Marie

Music is an integral part of our lives. Music can help you relax after a long day of work, it can boost your energy while going for a run, it can make a date just all that more romantic, it can allow you to escape from your worries on a long car drive, and it can energize a night out with your friends.  

But did you know that music could also help improve your mental concentration?

This article explores a variety of academic findings on the relationship between music and brainpower.

Encourage Your Children to Appreciate Music

Rauscher et al. studied a group of preschoolers.[1] They found that young children who received piano instruction had better abstract reasoning skills than those who received computer instruction. These skills are essential to learning mathematics and science. Learning to play the piano allows children to develop their neural circuitry, which is responsible for spatial intelligence.

Another study, conducted by Malyarenko et al. revealed that four-year-olds who listened to classical music for just one hour per day improved their ability to think coherently.[2]

Studies such as these have led some to demand schools to place a higher emphasis on incorporating music into school curriculums.

So, consider turning on some classical music the next time your child is playing in the family room. Even better, encourage him or her to leave the video games behind at least one night a week to learn to play the piano.

Develop Your Interest in Music Through the Years

In addition to learning to appreciate music as a young child, adults also show higher intelligence when they continue to develop their interest in music. The benefits include improving your speed of thinking, your brain’s mental organization, as well as your memory skills.

In a study involving individuals aged between 65 and 80, those who had spent more years developing their ability to play a musical instrument demonstrated higher intelligence than others.[3]

Not Just Any Music

Exposure to music can improve your thinking skills, but not all music can improve one’s cognitive skills.   

A study at the University of Wales researched how background music plays a role in one’s ability to focus and retain information.[4] They found that students performed better when they were either in a quiet study space or when listening to music with few lyrics. Also, students who listened to their favourite playlists (including, for instance, Lady Gaga or Arcarde Fire) were less able to concentrate, as they were distracted by the music.

Listening to rock, pop, rap, among others, is a great form of entertainment. However, these genres are more likely to distract your brain, rather than improve your mental focus. It is more helpful to listen to instrumental music, or songs with few lyrics, when it comes to improving your concentration.

Stimulate Your Brain Waves with Baroque Music

If not all music improves concentration, then what type of music can improve your brainpower? Researchers have found the baroque music is the most beneficial.

According to Stein, Hardy, and Totten, baroque music can enhance your ability to memorize and retain information.[5] They analyzed students who were learning a set of words. Those who had listened to Handel’s Water Music while memorizing those words performed better than those who hadn’t. They found that baroque music encourages the use of both the left and right side of the brain, thereby improving your ability to learn new information. 

Music can also be used as a relaxing technique, which helps you concentrate. Ostranda and Schroeder found that relaxing your body with music contributes to higher brainpower.[6] This is because music simultaneously allows your body to relax and keeps your mind alert. Furthermore, the rhythm of baroque music enables your heart and brain waves to synchronize.

Add Music to Your Therapy

Music has a variety of benefits when it comes to increasing your brainpower. Therapists in schools, colleges, and career centers can encourage their patients to incorporate music into their studies and work habits.

Therapists can encourage those experiencing academic stress or job-related anxiety to create a playlist with their favourite songs. Encourage them to include a sample of baroque songs from musicians such as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, and George Philipp Telemann. They can also add in some classical music, such as Mozart and Beethoven. And to spice it up a bit, finish it off with some beautiful Spanish guitar by Enrique Granados or Isaac Albeniz.

If appropriate, therapists can even consider playing some soft background music in their office. This can create a more relaxing and inviting environment. 

[1] Rauscher et al. February 1997. Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children's spatial-temporal reasoning. Neurological Research.

[2] Jensen, E. November 2001. The Science of the Arts. Principal Leadership. [online] Available at: <>

[3] Music and intelligence: A guide for the science-minded. 2013. Dewar, G. Parenting Science. [online] Available at: <>

[4] Doraiswamy, S. October 8, 2012. Does Music Help You Study? Mind the Science Gap [online] Available at: <>

[5]Stein, B., Hardy, C. A., & Totten, H. (1984). The use of music and imagery to enhance and accelerate information retention.  Journal of the Society for Accelerative Learning & Teaching, 7 (4).

[6] Harris, M. Music and the Young Mind: Enhancing Brain Development and Engaging Learning. 2009. Plymouth, UK: R&L Education.



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