There have been countless studies and an exhaustive amount of research done on this very subject, from places such as PBS, Forbes, Psychology Today, & National Geographic. These articles alone should have you contacting me now to book a piano lesson. However, I will be speaking directly from my over 35 years as a musician, and educator, with the last 20 of those years as a full time musician and educator, as well as make a logical argument that playing a piano does in fact increase overall intelligence.
I will begin by saying that we are indeed as a human species, extremely vain to believe that human language regardless of which language it is, is capable of precisely expressing the entire range and gambit of human emotion, feeling, experience, and thought. There are literally hundreds of thoughts and feelings that we simply “cannot put into words”. Here are a few examples:
What it feels like to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. Can you explain it to me in a way that will cause me to feel what you felt when you saw it,only using words. Or, explain to me with words,
- The feeling of pride you’ve felt when one of your children overcame a huge obstacle and went on to achieve a great success. Can that be explained in words, and in such a way that I would feel the same emotion you felt when the event occurred. Or, on the other end of the spectrum.
- Explain to me in words how it felt when you lost a loved one that you held dear. Again, there are “no” words.
Now, let’s move on to music, but wait before I do, let me mention that although it is a commonly held belief that reading, improves intelligence and that a large working vocabulary is in fact a sign of higher intelligence. Which by the way, I too also believe in that reading is extremely important and that the larger that your working vocabulary is then certainly the clearer you can think and express yourself and your thoughts. Which brings me to my next logical and conclusive point, in that order of significance and importance. While language is important, it can be argued that it has its limitations. Whereas music on the other hand, shall I say is “less” limited. Although in my experience I’m not 100% certain I would say that it is limitless.
Premise no. 1 – Mastery of a spoken language and vocabulary are essential to mental growth, intelligence, communication and rational thought, but at the same time such mastery has limitations in fully expressing the entire spectrum of the human experience, and emotion.
Premise no. 2 – Music, whether listening to it or playing it, allows one to express as well as communicate feeling, thoughts and ideas well beyond the boundaries of words.
Conclusion: Then music whether listening or playing it, from a purely logical position certainly improves the mental sharpness of one’s brain and greatly augments the ability to think and to reason. My conclusion and statement here is purely logical, however, I can back it up from my own personal experience as a musician first of all, and secondly as a music educator for many years.
I have personally seen my students grow in their ability to problem solve and figure out situations and problems, and I truly believe it to be a direct consequence of piano lessons. In very non-scientific terms yet very real terms, playing a musical instrument helps to develop the ability to “think outside the box” And as we all know life, real life doesn’t happen inside of a box. So in a very pragmatic way I believe learning a musical instrument helps prepare and hone the life skills needed to thrive in this world. That’s a huge statement, but I have literally said to myself hundreds of times, that life is like jazz. And that is that you must learn to improvise, and not only improvise but make it sound pretty when you do it. Hence the important value of learning to play an instrument.
I tell my students all the time that most certainly it is important to strive for e A’s and B’s in school. I tell them that there are certain squares that must be filled-in in life and that good grades are one of those squares. But with equal passion I inform them A’s and B’s are only one third of what it takes to be intelligent. The second third of intelligence is problem solving. Without any doubt, playing a musical instrument helps to develop this elusive yet extremely necessary skill. Playing music involves use of the right side of the brain. Music involves concepts that are not concrete like one plus one equals two. By the way, the third part of intelligence is application, or knowing when and how to apply your knowledge. Playing piano or any musical instrument for that matter, involves making artistic choices, these choices help to enhance the piece of music that you are performing. This again taps into the right side of the brain.
At a minimum, and I certainly believe music does much more than this, Music makes you more well rounded. I often tell some of my more gifted students that they will probably end up becoming a surgeon, or a nuclear physicist. But I also tell them that playing piano will make them a better surgeon, or nuclear physicist. Mainly because, playing music involves the use of “every” part of the brain simultaneously. Playing music is literally like a full body workout for the brain. I have made a logical argument here for the importance of learning to play an instrument and listening to music, and haven’t even touched on the tons of scientific research that backs up every piece of evidence that I have just stated.
I’ll leave you with this final thought and you can draw your own conclusion. There is a medical term for a mental condition known as idiot savant. A savant is a person who in one or two areas of brain function are absolute geniuses beyond belief. A person that has this condition is a genius in that one area only and they are extremely low functioning in every other aspect of their lives. In other words, they may not even be able to tie their own shoe, or comb their own hair, and must totally depend on someone else to assist them in every area of their lives. There are many types of Savants, some are math savants, as portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Rainman”. A math savant can solve any computation in their head without paper or pencil. Some are visual art savants. They can accurately duplicate any scene or painting after only seeing it once. Some are sculpture savants and can sculpt any figure in clay with breathtaking accuracy. However some are music savants and here is my point. A musical savant can accurately play any musical piece on piano after only hearing it once. I have seen savants perform music before, and interestingly enough, they only perform or are interested in specifically only two styles of music. That music being Classical piano, or Jazz piano which are the two most complex forms of music. They absolutely love it. Here is my point. If someone who has a genetic mutation that allows them to become literally a super prodigious genius in music and they love and can perform Classical and Jazz piano. What conclusion can be drawn from that? I leave you with that thought. Does playing music make you smarter. I thinks so. Until next time. Keep on playing, or if not then you certainly need to begin.