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Music and the Brain

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

I am so appreciative of my parents for encouraging me to keep up my music. Not only did it become my career, but I am only now realizing what a huge gift it was to me. I just finished a course through Berkeley OLLI, in which Peter Ralston encouraged everyone to take up piano, violin or singing for their brain health. He showed how studies in neuroscience prove that music is beneficial for the brain, increasing flexibility and function in people of all ages, from toddlers to seniors.

Heard on NPR's All Things Considered, April 3, 2023 5:00 AM ET

Building a better brain through music, dance and poetry Jon Hamilton

"Children that are playing music, their brain structure actually changes and their cerebral cortex actually gets larger," Magsamen says. In Your Brain on Art, Magsamen and Ross describe how a person's neural circuitry changes in response to activities like learning a new song, or a new dance step, or how to play a character onstage.

They also explain why a growing number of researchers believe these changes result in a brain that is better prepared to acquire a wide range of skills, including math and science.

A brain trained to flex

Music, dance, drawing, storytelling — all of these have been a part of human cultures for tens of thousands of years. As a result, "we're really wired for art," Magsamen says.

And when we make art, she says, we increase the brain's plasticity — its ability to adapt in response to new experiences.

"Children who engage in the arts are better learners," Ross says. "Students with access to art education are five times less likely to drop out of school and four times more likely to be recognized with high achievement."

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