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Does Music Make You Smarter?

Haley Melton

University of North Carolina at Charlotte



This paper shows the different benefits of obtaining a musical education. It is a report

conducted using the internet and my own personal experiences of the impact of music on my life.

Music changes the chemistry and organization of your brain and also provides the skills needed

to reach your optimal brain usage. The lack of funding for band programs and music training in

schools shows how much music is valued in the education system, but there are underlying

benefits that would increase the intelligence of America and other areas of the world. America is

on the lower end of intelligence based on studies mentioned in the rest of the paper. Assumptions

based on the well-known Mozart effect are corrected, and the many benefits of music and its

effects on the brain and intelligence are explained throughout this report.

Does Music Make You Smarter?

Many musicians are known to be intelligent, but is it the music that makes them smart?

Or is there something else? People who have had a lot of musical training typically perform

better on a number of tests including visual memory tasks and memorizing new words. Also,

people who actually play a musical instrument generally have a higher intelligence quotient (IQ)

than those who just listen to music. Musical training allows for changes in brain organization as

well as enhanced performances based on spatial reasoning and visual tests (FYI Living, 2011).

So, the question is, does music really make you smarter?

It all depends on what you define as smarter. Our intelligence is divided into many

categories: linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, and more. And of course,

there is musical intelligence, which is your ability to determine the difference between pitch,

tone, and other aspects of music (Demorest & Morrison, 2000). Its obvious that music training

would enhance musical intelligence, but there is much more to it than that. Many people dont

find music training as an essential thing to learn. Subjects like mathematics and science are way

more valued than music education in todays society. Students who excel in math and science

subjects are seen as smart, but a student who is outstanding in music is only talented even

when music is an actual intelligence just like mathematics is (Demorest & Morrison, 2000). The

lack of funding schools has for music programs shows how much they value music training. In

my high school, our band program didnt see a penny from the school we raised all of our

money ourselves.

Music is not just playing around on instruments in an isolated room at a public high

school. A lot of us are actually serious about it. People see band as an easy class one they can

easily get an A in and get their GPA up. It is so much more than that. Music has a lot to do with

enhancing your brain function, but people dont take the time and effort to learn about it and

engage in musical training. Music is not just noise. Its defined as organized music - there is a lot

of work that goes into making music; it is a sophisticated art form that utilizes brain power to be

created (May, 2013). Musicians or band students often do a lot during the time they are in class

or in training sessions. They have to do things like: focus for a long period of time, read sheet

music, translate music notes into finger movements, recognize patterns, know differences

between pitches, memorize long passages of sheet music, and much more (Dewar, 2014).

When I say music education, I dont just mean listening to music; I mean actually

engaging your brain with learning an instrument and speaking the language of music. The most

well-known phenomenon that shows the influence of music on the mind is the Mozart Effect. It

is believed that your intelligence can be increased if you listen to any piece by Mozart or other

classical music (Dewar, 2014). This belief is not exactly true. A 1993 study in a university in

California tested different groups that listened to classical music, a relaxation tape, and a silent

environment to see if there was any increase in skills and intelligence (Dewar, 2014). The mass

media immediately presented to the world that Mozart will make you smarter, but that wasnt

the case. What they were really suggesting was that Mozart, classical music, or any kind of

music that lifts your mood and stimulates your mind will allow for a fifty-minute boost in your

spatial reasoning (May, 2013). Although, it has been difficult to replicate the experiment and

there are different results every time it is done. Personally, when I have music playing in the

background, I feel like I have to be doing something or I have to be productive in some way.

Music gives motivation to learn, or maybe to just get through the day. Listening to upbeat music

that positively influences your mood releases dopamine the feel-good hormone. The happier a

person is and the more dopamine that is released in their brains, the more likely they are to be

open to new ideas and produce better results and work habits (Levi, 2016).

Listening to music will give you a small boost in visual reasoning, but actually playing an

instrument will enhance your brain function for life. This doesnt mean you could play an

instrument once and obtain your optimal brain usage, you have to work at it and continue your

music training. Playing an instrument utilizes the majority of the brain. It uses the motor cortex,

which controls your finger movement, your sensory cortex, which controls your sensory and

tactile feedback, and many other parts of your brain (Levi, 2016). Essentially, playing a musical

instrument gives you a mental workout. These workouts usually help to enhance your spatial

skills (like your ability to solve problems and putting together puzzles), your auditory processing

(such as distinguishing sounds and remembering things you hear) and motor skills. For better

results, you should play an instrument that requires two hands to play (which is most of them),

this stimulates both sides of the brain and makes the hemispheres communicate more than they

would with a single-handed instrument. Also, singing while you play or practice helps you learn

quicker and strengthens your brain capacity, and it also helps to create more pathways in your

brain so that neural signals can get around your brain easier (Levi, 2016). I found this interesting

because in my band class we would always begin sight reading by singing our music and placing

the correct fingers on our instruments to create the notes. I thought it was just a simple way to

figure out how the music was going to sound and to find which other sections had your part as

well. But the band director was actually having us sing to retain more of the music and learn it

quicker than if you just look over it visually.

Music also impacts your mind physically. The cerebellum is a small section of the brain

located at the back of your head which aids in muscle movement and coordination (Myers,

2006). Musicians typically have a larger cerebellum than non-musicians. Those who have a

music education also have 130 percent more grey matter than those that do not. Grey matter is

composed of neurons and the more grey matter a person has in their brain, the easier neural

signals get around to other areas of their brain to send messages regarding things such as sensory

input and muscle movement. Lastly, individuals who pursue a music education are more likely

to have a fifteen percent larger corpus callosum, which is the neural fibers that run between the

hemispheres of your brain to send messages or neural signals to both sides (May, 2013). Overall,

getting a music education helps build neural pathways in your brain and enhances a lot of your

skills that you will even hold later in life if you continue your education.

Since musical training does so much changing to the organization of your brain, the most

effective way of inviting those changes is starting early. People who start their musical training

at a younger age tend to have stronger brains later in their lifetime (FYI Living, 2011). When

youre young, your brain is more elastic and can stretch more to retain more information, but

when youre older your brain loses that elasticity and its a lot harder to enhance your brain

function. A study showed that people with about ten years of musical training or experience are

better at performing nonverbal tasks and executive process, which is essentially your cognitive

control (FYI Living, 2011).

Another study found that musicians that exercise between passages of music had even

higher brain function than those that did not exercise. Exercise, even just walking, allows for

your brain to be worked even further, and it also leads to a healthy body. Imagine how much

your brain would be worked if you engaged in music and exercised at the same time, like in a

marching band (FYI Living, 2011). Personally speaking, marching band is hard. You have to

memorize your music, memorize your spots on the field, learn how to march, learn different

styles of music, watch the drum major...its a lot of work and it takes a lot of effort. But it pays

off in the end. Music education pays off in the long run and gives your brain an effective

workout on a daily basis.

Music obviously has a lot of benefits to brain health, so why not make it a priority in

schools like math and science are? Since 1990, there has been a decline in intelligence in

America. Out of twenty-one countries that participated in the International Mathematics and

Science Study, our high school seniors rank at number nineteen only beating Cyprus and South

Africa (Williams, 2011). We need musical education to be seen as important in school, just like

the main subjects are. Stop looking at the band program as a terrible investment, stop looking at

the band kids like theyre idiots when they take an easy class seriously, stop looking at musical

training as a lost cause. Because at the end of the day, music is the best way to save us from the

decline of intelligence we have in America.



Demorest, S. M., & Morrison, S. J. (2000). Does music make you smarter?. Music Educators

Journal, 11-17. doi: 10.2307/3399646

Dewar, G. (2014). Music and Intelligence. Retrieved from

FYI Living. (2011, Sep. 19). Musicians are probably smarter than the rest of us. Retrieved from

James Mays Q&A: Can music make you smarter?. (Video File). Retrieved from

Levi. (2016, Jan. 14). This is why playing an instrument makes you smarter. Retrieved from


Myers, D. G. (2006). Psychology (8th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers

Williams, R. (2011). Are Americans getting dumber?. Retrieved from



The most interesting thing I learned throughout the inquiry process was that musical

training can actually rewire your brain. We dont really tend to think about how our outside

choices affect our bodies and out psyche. I really struggled to create an introduction and make

my paragraphs flow in this project. I just did what I always do wrote my body paragraphs and

then went back to the introduction. It was also hard for me to not resort to the three-pronged

thesis approach to this kind of research project because thats what Im used to. Free writing

really helped me to get out of that habit and just saying what I needed/wanted to say about an

argument rather than a thesis statement (I feel like theres a difference, I just dont know how

to put it into words). My inquiry question did change over time. I started out with how music

affects us both mentally and physically, but that seemed a little too broad and it was hard to put

my experiences into that. Then it changed to just how music affects our psyche, but still it was a

broad subject and I didnt know how to add my voice unless I just talked about how music

influenced my mood. Then I came to the idea that I could talk about how music impacts our

intelligence and create a call to action to fund band programs in school and make them serious,

not just an easy class, because there really are many benefits to getting music training. Its

important to look at the context of your topic because you have to know if you have room to add

your voice and your experiences to it. If its something you have no experience with or no

opinion on, how are you going to improve your argument? How are you going to create an

argument about something you have no opinion of or have no interest in?

I do think that my analytical skills have changed over the course of this project. I have

learned how to add my opinion and have conversations with the texts I read. I think I am most

proud of the amount of information I added to this project and also how I added my own

experiences into it. It gives me credibility in the sense that I have lived through it. Ive lived

through the lack of funding, the years of music education, the increased test scores. I would like

to know more about the psychological aspects of music on the brain and also the different

concepts and theories some people have about the increased intelligence (or maybe even

decreased intelligence, just to hear the other side of things).

My writing group was awesome. They gave me critiques about my paper and asked

questions about things I needed to clarify throughout the paper. Not everyone knows what a

cerebellum or the corpus callosum is, and it also reminded me who my audience is. I wasnt

writing to a psychologist or someone who would necessarily know what those things were. I was

talking to parents who wanted to give their children a musical education, teens who skeptical

about joining band, and educators who didnt know the benefits of musical training. I also

critiqued my partners papers and helped contribute to ideas they had.