Yes, it’s probably true. It’s a measurable fact, born out by some really neat studies where they use magnetic imaging to see the differences in the folds and various parts of the brain. What makes my brain better than most is that I perform the simple act of playing music on an instrument. The great thing is that I don’t even need the skills or artistry to play particularly well. Images were taken over time of people who did not play, and then started playing, and then again after they’d been playing for at least a year. In all cases, the images showed substantial, measurable improvement of the physical structure and operating ability of the brain.
It's also nice to know is that age was not an issue; all ages showed similar improvement. On the flip side, the trendy belief that playing music to your unborn child will result in all sorts of super-human abilities was shown to be false. All studies showed that the “music” that unborn children hear is nothing but murky muffled sounds, contributing nothing. This was a blow to me, as I had all but patented my “Baby Belly Bach-O-Phones” which are essentially huge headphones that are placed around a pregnant mother’s belly. Want a pretentious genius of a child? Play Bach or Mozart. Want a kid who knows how to make a buck? Play Springsteen or Lady Gaga. The “Ear Wax Vac” appeared to be selling well enough that my belly phones would be a no-brainer. Apparently, as an idea, it does indeed show no brains.
The only real questions these studies raise are: Why aren’t ukuleles and such standard issue at assisted-living facilities and nursing homes, where the extra neurological activity is a known Alzheimer-fighter, and why aren’t instruments handed out to all elementary school students? We mock the Asian attitude of having all children play an instrument at a young age, but heck, if science proves this to be effective, why aren’t we doing it?
Does anyone out there really think that playing in 8,439 soccer games before a child’s 10th birthday does anything other than ruin family weekend time together? Do Ivy League colleges require that all applicants participate in a minimum of 12,000 sporting events and spend at least 45,000 miles in a car getting to these events? There’s no doubt that one can also place too much emphasis on music, and lest you think I’m anti-athletic, I’m a former bicycle racer and professional swim coach, ran a local cycling club, and has a son who’s won a National Championship in mountain bike racing.
Let's not even go into the part about how creative thinking is absolutely essential to success in business. There are thousands of computer geeks out there; only the creative ones can dream up ideas that result in an Apple or Microsoft. With the business environment changing daily, the ability to think creatively is essential. A simple hike around the woods of Madison will show innumerable remnants of papermills, gristmills, sawmills and the like, all grim reminders that in business, nothing ever stays the same.
Now that it’s yet another new year, and you have the opportunity to make another New Year’s resolution, try making one that’s pretty easy and fun at the same time. Start small with music. Get the family out to some live music events. There are plenty around that don’t go late, and offer up some very cool contemporary stuff in a family setting. This may sound a little self-serving, as I run a not-for-profit concert series that is designed with families in mind, and also has a strong educational element with workshops and a fiddle club. But there are many others. Festivals in the summer months are fantastic.
Hopefully the kids (and you) will get inspired to play a little. Start easy, keep the practice requirements low to avoid burnout, and above all, try to learn music you like. The studies were also pretty conclusive in that it didn’t matter of you were cranking away to the Stones or Mumford and Sons or singing along with Gregorian chants: no matter what you played, you got smarter.