Will Musical Training Make You More Successful?
The overall positive effect music has on complex life is not up for debate anymore – it has been scientifically proven and measured numerous times already. And while we may not always know the exact mechanisms of action, a simple measurement can prove that some types of music or rather types of vibration certain types of music create, have a positive effect on the plant growth rate.
Admittedly, people are certainly more complex creatures, but surely anyone can remember a situation in which music helped with focus and performance beyond expectations. Are these just some odd exceptions, or is music really all that powerful? Can musical training push our limits even further and make us permanently more successful?
A few years ago, James Hudziak, the professor of psychiatry and director of the Vermont Center for Children, did research which showed that, statistically, musical training helped kids control emotions, diminish anxiety and focus attention better. In a model Hudziak created, five factors – parents, teachers, friends, pets and extracurricular activities – were crucial for the psychological health of a child, with music being the most critical component among extracurricular activities. This might not come as a surprise, because improving skills with a musical instrument would require improvement of control and coordination of movement over time. But the indication that musical activities are linked to developments in the part of the cortex that regulates attention, planning, organization, working memory and, most importantly, executive functioning, came as a sort of revelation.
At the same time, a study using functional MRI, conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital, came to a similar conclusion – areas associated with executive function were shown to be more active in musicians. Some previous studies had already proven a definitive positive correlation between musical training and cognitive abilities, but this one was focused specifically on executive functions, as they are an essential predictor variable in the analysis of academic achievements. Since these functions also seem to be positively related to musical training, these two studies have strong educational implications: musically trained children should be more prone to success.
So, this surely means it’s too late for those of us who are untrained? Should we be worried about a new breed of humans with superior intelligence making us basically obsolete? Fortunately, these same studies show that we might still have a chance because the same types of enhanced cognitive and executive performance were found in both adult musicians and musically trained children.
There is a catch, however. After a period of extensive testing, teams had to concede that it was impossible to determine whether it was the musical training that enhanced the executive function abilities or it was the other way round. So it is entirely possible that it was these abilities that attracted individuals to the training.
The only way to answer this question is to conduct long-term studies in which groups of children would be randomly assigned to musical training. If you are not eager to wait for a definitive answer, grab your old dust-collecting instrument from the attic because whatever the study finally reveals, music is always a good source of inspiration.