Sunday, August 15, 2010

music of the hemispheres

Sciencenews | “No one questions that listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial, temporal reasoning that underlies math and engineering and even chess,” Miller said.

Actually, a lot of researchers questioned the link between listening to music and smarts. In the original study, the “Mozart effect” was minor and lasted only minutes. Follow-up studies found the effect specific neither to the composer nor to music. Students listening to Mozart were just more stimulated than those listening to a relaxation tape or silence. And while arousal can improve learning, research suggests, the effects can be fleeting and aren’t limited to music. Assessments of the original report now tend to be dirges: In the May-June issue of Intelligence, researchers from the University of Vienna published a paper titled “Mozart effect–Shmozart effect.”

“It’s a short-lived effect and it spawned a huge industry of baby Einstein, baby Mozart CDs, all sorts of stuff,” says Aniruddh Patel of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego. “But the science behind it is pretty thin.”

Yet even though listening to Mozart won’t make you smarter, a growing body of evidence suggests that playing his music will. Musical training doesn’t just make you a better musician — the acquired skills seem to transfer to other areas, various studies have found. And research focused on the brain’s particular relationship with music and language suggests that engaging the mind with musical training could remedy language impairments such as dyslexia.

“There really is now so much evidence showing that musical experience has a pervasive effect on how the nervous system gets molded and shaped throughout our lifetimes,” says Nina Kraus, head of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “This kind of transformation comes about only with active engagement with sound. My daddy always said, ‘You never get something for nothing.’ You’re not going to get big biceps by watching wrestlers — you’ve got to do it.”

In the long run, musical training appears to improve a suite of verbal and nonverbal skills. Playing an instrument may add finesse to how people move their bodies. Making music makes you hear better, fine-tuning the ability to extract a signal from noise. Musical training also may improve grammar skills, the ability to grasp meaning from words and to distinguish a question from a command.

Until recently, establishing cause and effect for music’s mental impact has been difficult. But long-term studies peering into brain structure and activity are now showing that musical training changes the brain in lasting ways.