IT’S OFFICIAL, MUSIC DOES MAKE YOU SMARTER

I have to blog about this story shared by Mr. M.D., because it's near and dear to my heart and mind: Music. I get questions quite often from people asking me something to the effect of "where did you learn to connect dots so well?" And it's true, I do like connecting dots. Whether I do it well or not is for other people to decide, but I do know that I enjoy doing it. In any case, my answer is always along the lines that it was my musical training, especially the fact that it was on the organ, from age six, that did it. It is an instrument which, like playing drums, demands a high degree of mind-body coordination, feet, hands, everything, including working out the puzzles of how to finger and pedal through difficult passages. That's half the fun.

But the other half is that it does do something to the brain, and hence, to the mind (and no, I do not equate the two). Music is, in effect, a soft form of mind control, even of wiring the "hard circuits" of the brain:

Music improves your brain: Study finds musicians are better at solving problems and making decisions

The first four paragraphs here say it all:

Music has charms to soothe the savage beast, so wrote the playwright-poet William Congreve. Science has shown that music can also heal and slow down the aging process. But new research has found one more reason to learn this universal language: Music can actually make you smarter.

Researchers from the University of Granada observed the neurological changes that occur due to prolonged musical training. The first-of-its-kind study showed that music helps people solve problems better. That’s because musicians enjoy higher neural connectivity than non-musicians, and therefore have an easier time with mental activities.

Scientists from the Mind, Brain and Behaviour Research Centre and the Department of History and Music Science studied 142 students in many music schools like the “Victoria Eugenia” Royal Conservatory of Music in Granada, the Conservatory of Music in Málaga, and the University of Granada’s Bachelor’s Degree in the History and Science of Music department. The students had formal music training for at least ten years, and learned to play an instrument in the process.

Participants underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) along with several neuro-psychological, behavioral, and hearing tests. A laterality test determined if they were left or right-handed. Results showed that musicians have higher neural connectivity than non-musicians in the default mode network, the brain system which leads to more complex cognitive processes like making crucial decisions or figuring out daily problems.

I took some comfort from these revelations, because I've long suspected that the decline that is so evident in American education and general culture is do to a twofold source: (1) the decline and eventual elimination of music from some public schools' curricula, and (2) the exposure of the general culture to a correspondingly "dumbed down" music: melody, propped up by chords, and an unrelenting jungle drum beat throbbing away in the background pounding lyrics of dubious artistic, and more often then not, of dubious moral merit into our heads. It's not "multi-track" or "multi-dimensional".

The ancients - Plato and Pythagoras come to mind - knew something that moderns have forgotten: music was not just a cultural phenomenon or expression, it was a cosmological one. There was an intricate, and intimate connection between the mind, music, and the structure of the cosmos itself evident from the intelligent contemplation of the numerical and mathematical relationships of the harmonic series. That cosmology was more or less abandoned in the eighteenth century for reasons we cannot get into here, but the result ever since has been a gradual decline to melody, chords, and jungle drum beat. One might go so far as to say that for the ancients, music was almost a kind of manipulation of the cosmos itself, through its affect on the mind, which for schools like Pythagoreanism or Platonism was the very stuff of the cosmos.

Which brings me to my point of the day: I often get asked by people, and particularly by the subscribing members of this website, what sort of things they can do to improve their children's education and abilities. One answer, expose them to music; have them learn a "contrapuntal" instrument like a keyboard instrument, or lutes, guitars, and so on, where they not only have to coordinate their mind and body, but coordinate several independent lines of melody in a harmonious fashion. If you're really fortunate, have them learn another kind of instrument as well. If you're even still more fortunate, you might find a teacher who will expose them, after some study, to old musical theory classics like the Gradus ad Parnassum, where they will learn to manipulate several independent lines of music harmoniously, and from there, the mind learns to recognize patterns in and of multi-layered structures, not just in music, but parallel patterns across all human intellectual disciplines, and that's where the real fun begins, because what is a culture, really, but the counterpoint of human minds? Lately, that has been increasingly dissonant, but only because we've lost the underlying discipline, and because we're idolizing the mediocre, and can no longer function with harmonious complexity. To the one track mind, that complexity seems mere chaos.

There's no reason that harmony cannot be restored to a great degree. But it will take study, exposure, and discipline in some forgotten traditions. Music is indeed a soft form of mind manipulation, but it is thankfully, a form of mind manipulation over which the individual has control.

See you on the flip side...

35 thoughts on “IT’S OFFICIAL, MUSIC DOES MAKE YOU SMARTER”

  1. Hi Dr. Farrell,

    many thanks for your insights; couldn’t agree with you more-

    am now in retirement but was a former opera singer (bass-baritone) with a career in 12 countries-

    I can’t tell you how much music has guided my life in such a positive direction and how many times it has saved my *ss in so many ways-

    many thanks for this posting-

    many regards,

    Larry in Germany

    1. there too, i gotta ask it – now if nothing else doc, this proves you’re not the mod since i think this question still makes you at least roll eyes in this direction – what’s up with verdi tuning? how is that not a thing? how is that not an important thing? and easier to understand? it’s all resonance right? it’s all energy?

  2. Music calms the savage breasts. In my habituation practice with Bigfoot, I often play music for them. Sometimes opera, sometimes 50 rock to get them dancing. Nevertheless, they love it … I try to also play more primitive drum beat music because they themselves can drum every bit as great as Ricky Ricardo.

    1. Margaret, I bet Bigfoot is very happy at your place! One of the greatest joys of my life is dancing, mostly rock n roll. When certain songs play on the radio it takes me back to certain time periods of my life. Music has the power to make your spirit soar or bring you down.

  3. Yep, got past the robo-mods. “Ho mo” (and words including ‘ho mo’) are part of the modding screen. Take note…

    (Modded because mis-spaced some below. Once again…)
    https://www.morewords.com/contains/ho mo/ (without the space)
    “169 words found.”
    Gotchas (beyond sexual terms):
    ho mogeneous
    ho mogenise & ho mogenize
    ho molog (“[linguistics] A word shared by two languages or dialects. [genetics] One of a group of similar DNA sequences that share a common ancestry.”)
    ho monym vs. ho mophone vs. ho mograph
    ho moplasy (“A ho moplasy is a character shared by a set of species but not present in their common ancestor.”)
    ho mopterous (insect)
    ho mozygosity (“The state of possessing two identical forms of a particular gene, one inherited from each parent.”)
    ortho molecular (“Ortho molecular medicine, a form of alternative medicine, aims to maintain human health through nutritional supplementation.”)
    psycho motor (“Psycho motor learning is the relationship between cognitive functions and physical movement.”)
    sopho more & sopho moric

    And most ironically modded:
    “ho mo sapiens sapiens”

  4. Indeed music and rhythm can be said to be a highly organizing principle of life – all flows well (meetings, mediation, negotiation, inter-personal relations, etc) when the language-less common ground understood by all peoples precedes and/or accompanies the occasion. (Add good food for a timeless winning combination)
    “If music be the food of love, play on.” Shakespeare
    “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Plato
    “Where words fail, music speaks.” Hans Christian Anderson
    As above, so below: The Harmony of the Spheres http://vaczy.dk/htm/spheres.htm

      1. Wow, thanks for those links! I play a native drum and middle eastern drums for relaxing. I always had them but got serious this winter and I purchased some books from Glen Velez who I see is one of the participants of that TaKeTiNa. Those are the syllables he teaches and says you have to sing while you play. Very important. But now I see why it’s so important and the cognitive and chemical changes that it can cause in the brain. Yes, this is important stuff. Actually jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie used to teach that he’d play African polyrhythms that would induce a heightened state and assist in spontaneous improvisation.

        Best Post Ever Dr. Farrell, except for all the others. 🙂

        1. My first serious drum teacher was Miranda Rondeau, top student of (and introduced me to my next teacher) multi-artist Layne Redmond, author of “When The Drummers Were Women – A Spiritual History Of Rhythm”, founder/director of Mob Of Angels, and was Glen’s partner for many years. Together they made several recordings and launched the original line of frame drums through REMO, her Signature Series is still in production. Glen’s is with Cooperman Drums. She passed from this realm in 2013 but left a huge body of work. Her website is still up and running. https://www.layneredmond.com/Home.html Do read the ‘back story – where it went strange’.

          Blessed to do a clinic with Glen too and see him featured with the North Indian Music Ensemble at California Institute Of The Arts. During his poly-rhythmic solo (hands/feet/voice), someone pulled the fire alarm. He didn’t flinch and played right through it all the chaos. Glen got most of his ‘simultaneity’ tricks from Reinhard and TaKeTiNa, having been a founding member of Reinhard’s ensemble MegaDrums. Search the web and YouTube for all the above names.

          1. I know of Lynn Redmond. I have her DVD’s and purchased a frame drum and tambourine from her. . I am not a percussionists per se, but I have frame drums and lots of hand percussion. I am aiming to get serious this summer, but I am flautists drawn to world percussion for both it’s spiritual value, transpersonal value, and to make me a better musician from a rhythmic perspective. Trying to insert these percussions into my practice regiment is a challenge. And I like the aspect related to this article. AFter our conversation, I purchased two more books from Glen. I will indeed do more research and search all those names. Thanks for sharing all of this

        1. There’s something seriously awry with those two listings. Couldn’t be typographical because two diff. sellers. Pirates and profiteers!!
          Skip bozo bezos and globaloney amazon. Superb booksearch portal to thousands of sellers: https://www.alibris.com/ or socially responsible https://www.biblio.com/
          But seriously “ain’t nothing like the real thing…”
          Come to a TaKeTiNa weekend workshop if you can. Guaranteed to rearrange your reality – in a positive way. Do a search for ‘taketina teachers’. Unfortunately the North American association seems a bit unorganized and offline at this time.

    1. Good point. Non-verbal communication is 90+% of our interactions. ‘Rhythms’ in that ambiance can blend or be non-harmonious. A different form of music.

      (When I was visiting India, there was a dramatic example of that. City traffic in India is chaotic. One Westerner ventured out into that traffic. The ‘rhythm’ of the traffic picked him up instantly. As long as he proceeded at a measured walking pace, the traffic flowed around him like water. Beautiful to see/feel, actually. At one point, his fear froze him in place and – yep – he was then hit. He had broken out of the ‘rhythm’ of the traffic…)

  5. I spent ALL afternoon learning a four bar phrase. I’d repeat it over an over again to get it the brain coordinated with fingers. I’d put down my instrument, and then the same problem with the same fingers. By the end of the day, I basically got it. tomorrow I’ll spend another day cleaning it up. The question is there any OTHER activity that makes you smarter at music so I can be smarter at other things?

  6. There was a paper published some decades ago that focused on the differences produced in the human brain using Asian-favored versus Western-favored instruments. The main thing I remember was that instruments that were designed to ‘mimic’ Nature sounds produced differences in activation areas than those instruments ‘apart’ from Nature sounds. For instance, bowed instruments (violins, etc.) with their continuous tones activated different areas than plucked instruments (lutes, etc.). It had something to do with the ‘hardwiring’ of the brain down through the eons…

    Also, if you are familiar with chakras, listen to how a given musical piece resonates with different chakras. Some cater to lower chakras, some to higher chakras, and some ‘skip around’. The best ‘chakra massage’ piece I have found is Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” (depending on the version). It does a thorough job of wandering-through all the chakras, almost as if it was ‘designed’ to do so. Amazing (and enjoyable).

    1. That’s fascinating. I play both western instruments and world instrumetns including Asian flutes that sound like birds and other assorted wooden instruments. I’d love to know where this research came from? Any chance you could locate this study? Book?

      1. The original report’s name is long forgotten. However, try this – it may refer to the same research:
        https://www.onosokki.co.jp/English/hp_e/patio/brain.htm
        “An article based on a research done more than 30 years ago by Professor Tsunoda is the origin. This information became widely known by his book ‘The Brains of Japanese’.

        It’s mysterious that Japanese uses the left brain for Japanese music instrument and the right brain for Western music instruments.

        It cannot clearly be stated that Japanese has different senses, but there’s a big difference from other nations, especially with nature sounds like insects and rain. Japanese just don’t hear it as a sound; but they feel seasons, overlap people’s emotions and look for meaning in it. This may have influences on the Japanese culture of accepting the nature instead of confronting it.”

        (additional references at bottom of page)

  7. Wasn’t it the Greeks who banned musicians forever from their country who played dissonant music? Music is intended to raise up your vibration in an upward spiral of energy. (Classical music does that and also is a countermeasure to mind control energies and frequencies.) Well, guess what? Rock music does the opposite. It is one of the most destructive forces on this planet and creates a downward spiral, which lowers the vibration of our entire civilization. Makes it easier to control the population that way and keep people dumbed down and asleep…

  8. The actual Congreve quotation (often misquoted as in the article excerpted above) is:

    “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

    The incorrect version, like many such sayings, is quite prolific. The correct version sounds almost like John Keely . . . but I’m sure it was just meant in a poetic sense here. (Or was it? Was Congreve a hermeticist?)

    I always get a kick out of writers who try to sound scholarly but botch the quotations (unlike our Joseph, who would actually research the quotation). It really is amazing how much corrupted information gets repeated and amplified in our culture, even by accident or sloppiness, not to mention direct intent. Sad.

    Music is also used in many spiritual traditions as a form of meditation. Anyone who plays knows that there is something mysterious and magical about the process of making music.

  9. Yes, I agree that most of what passes for popular “music” is dumbed down garbage produced by engineers on machines. I especially despise the autotuner that is so prevalent. I cannot listen to it. I find myself toggling back and forth between the classical and jazz stations when I am in the car for any length of time.
    But in response to your “jungle drum beat” remark, consider subtle complexity of polyrhythms.

    https://youtu.be/S-O5OlQI5xc

    1. Thanks for the link Janu by the way Joseph I like classical, opera as well as rock and roll. Music from other cultures from around the world interest me the only music doesn’t interest me is Jazz though if you play it to me and don’t tell me I might be interested.

    2. Yes, you are correct. There are many traditions of traditional drumming around the world Africa, India, Brazil (come to mind first) where the traditional drums are still made from animal skins and they have a softer resonance with rich overtones. Vs the synthetic heads of our modern drums that can be jarring and since we already are getting esoteric, they effect and can damage the auric field. But most of the hip hop type beats are digitally generated and lack any natural feel of a human being able to play on and around the beat to create the appropriate feel. Plus African time (the method by which they count) is different than western drummers are taught.

  10. After many, many years I am practicing, playing and studying my guitar. Devoting energy and attention to an instrument definitely helps to keep you on your toes! “I’ve got a feeling, that keeps me on my toes… “

  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musica_universalis
    “This “music” is not usually thought to be literally audible, but a harmonic, mathematical or religious concept.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptolemy%27s_table_of_chords

    Its all about the resonance…..time isnt a dimension its fractionnal representation. that only has meaning on a spherical globe.. and to be precise.. an hour lasts an hour only because we’re on earth.. Going to Saturn.. it takes 9h and 56 minutes.. Is that a day? Or a 3.8983333333. of a day.. Going away for a weekend? See you in 2 saturn days or 19.12 earth hours.. or a 0.7966666. Earth days.. (who’s going to calculate all that out….)
    Why does base 12 matter? measure time and co ordinates on a 360 spherical globe. Very interesting knowledge to have if you intend to colonise other planets.

    1. Well, let’s see: We (homo sapiens sapiens) have 10 fingers and 10 toes. Hence, Base 10 math. However, at the beginning of our culture, someone implanted our reasoning systems with Base 12 methods. No clue there… (grin)

    2. (Modded. Testing to see if “ho mo” is one of the verboten words:)

      Well, let’s see: We (ho mo sapiens sapiens) have 10 fingers and 10 toes. Hence, Base 10 math. However, at the beginning of our culture, someone implanted our reasoning systems with Base 12 methods. No clue there… (grin)

      1. Yep, got past the robo-mods. “Ho mo” (and words including ‘ho mo’) are part of the modding screen. Take note…

        https://www.morewords.com/contains/ho mo/ (without the space)
        “169 words found.”
        Gotchas (beyond sexual terms):
        ho mogeneous
        ho mogenise & ho mogenize
        ho molog (“[linguistics] A word shared by two languages or dialects. [genetics] One of a group of similar DNA sequences that share a common ancestry.”)
        ho monym vs. homo phone vs. homo graph
        ho moplasy (“A homoplasy is a character shared by a set of species but not present in their common ancestor.”)
        ho mopterous (insect)
        ho mozygosity (“The state of possessing two identical forms of a particular gene, one inherited from each parent.”)
        ortho molecular (“Ortho molecular medicine, a form of alternative medicine, aims to maintain human health through nutritional supplementation.”)
        psycho motor (“Psycho motor learning is the relationship between cognitive functions and physical movement.”)
        sopho more & sopho moric

        And most ironically modded:
        “ho mo sapiens sapiens”

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