Music has a powerful effect on our emotions. Parents know that a quiet, gentle lullaby can soothe a fussy baby. And a majestic chorus can make us swell of excitement. But music can also affect the way we think.
Babies are born with billions of brain cells. During the first years of life, those brain cells form connections with other brain cells. Over time, the connections we use regularly become stronger. Children who grow up listening to music develop strong music -related connections.
Does Music Make Us Smarter?
Not exactly. Music seems to prime our brains for certain kinds of thinking. After listening to classical music, adults can do certain spatial tasks more quickly, such as putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
Why does this happen? The classical music pathways in our brain are similar to the pathways we use for spatial reasoning. When we listen to classical music, the spatial pathways are “turned on” and ready to be used.
The priming makes it easier to work a puzzle quickly. But the effect lasts only a short time. Our improved spatial skills fade about an hour after we stop listening to the music.
Learning to play an instrument can have longer-lasting effects on spatial reasoning, however. In several studies, children who took piano lessons for six months improved their ability to work puzzles and solve other spatial tasks by as much as 30%.
Why Classical Music?
The music most people call “classical” (works by composers such as Bach, Beethoven or Mozart) is different from music such as rock and country. Classical music has a more complex musical structure. Babies as young as 3 months can pick out that structure and even recognize classical music selections they have heard before.
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