Can Playing the Piano Increase Your IQ?

Posted by Gordon Bolton

People have been playing music for at least 40,000 years. In that time, music has played a central role in the development of human culture, positively affecting both individual musicians and those who listen to them play.

Though music has been around for thousands of years, it’s only been within the last few decades that neuroscientists have developed a full understanding of how, exactly, music changes and positively impacts the brain. Now, many neuroscientists describe playing music or learning an instrument as being like a full-body workout for the brain, and recent research shows that it could even raise musicians’ IQs. Read on to find out about the current state of the research into the neuroscience of music to find out why playing the piano is so beneficial.

How Playing the Piano Affects the Brain

Learning to play the piano improves function in three areas of the brain:

  • The motor cortices
  • The visual cortices
  • The auditory cortices

It creates strong brain activity in these areas and bridges the gap between the two hemispheres of the brain, increasing activity in a player’s corpus callosum. Increasing the connections between different areas of the brain allows messages to cross through faster and via more diverse roots, improving musicians’ problem-solving abilities and increasing their creativity.

The best part is that you don’t have to become a master pianist to take advantage of these unique benefits. Playing regularly for just five months at a beginner level at any age can induce positive changes in the structure of the brain, increasing IQ and making it easier to master skills used not just in front of the piano but throughout everyday life.

The Proof Is in the Research

People have long suspected that playing music or learning an instrument can improve brain health and increase IQ. Recently, researchers across the globe have begun to take a critical look at this assertion, and they have largely found that it is true.

One nine-month Canadian study showed that the IQs children who participated in piano and voice training rose by an average of three points over the course of the study compared to their peers. Schellenberg, the study’s primary author, believes that there is a direct connection between the multidimensional nature of playing music and improvements in children’s understanding of mathematics, spatial intelligence, and other academic pursuits. He calls these collateral benefits of music education ‘transfer effects.”

A more recent University of Zurich study provides even more insight into how music shapes the brain. Its researchers found that people who play music regularly have functionally and structurally different brains and that learning an instrument can increase a musician’s IQ by as much as seven points, regardless of age. Areas of the brain that exhibit structural differences in musicians vs. non-musicians include:

  • Hearing and listening
  • Motor skills
  • Memory
  • Emotion
  • Attention
  • Learning

The structural differences between the brains of musicians and non-musicians impact more than just the ability to produce beautiful, emotionally compelling music. All of the skills developed by playing piano, including increased IQ, can also improve daily cognitive, executive, and social function, improving ability across a wide variety of tasks and fields.

Musicianship and Brain Plasticity

In addition to improving function in various areas of the brain, playing the piano also increases brain plasticity. Brain plasticity refers to the ability to create new neural circuits, effectively allowing the brain to rewire itself.

Though brain plasticity in children has received the bulk of researchers’ attention, scientists have recently shifted their focus to studying brain plasticity across all age demographics. They have found that adults also exhibit greater levels of brain plasticity while learning, practicing, or playing music. There is, however, a caveat: when people stop practicing, their brains return to a normal level of plasticity and overall function.

Increasing brain plasticity through learning how to play the piano doesn’t just increase IQ. It can also have a positive impact on working memory, planning, problem-solving, and other forms of executive function. Musicians of all ages also show:

  • Enhanced reading ability.
  • Improved sequencing of verbal information.
  • Increased ability to detect pitch changes in spoken language.
  • Improved ability to decode emotions in spoken prose.

The improved executive function increases the brain’s ability to process, store and receive memories. Even older musicians at a higher risk of developing brain diseases like dementia show increased brain plasticity and improved memory than non-musicians.

Take Advantage of the Cognitive Benefits of Musicianship

The best way to take advantage of the proven cognitive benefits of musicianship is to purchase a piano for home use. Though some studies indicate that children and adults can benefit from as little as one hour of musical education per week, it’s easier to learn piano when the student can practice every day.

The problem is, taking care of pianos can be a bit of a challenge. They require consistent temperature and humidity levels and must be handled with care whenever they are moved or stored. Whether they’re professional concert pianists or avid students just starting to learn a new instrument, musicians should always entrust piano moving and storage to piano storage experts.

Once an aspiring pianist has found a way to put keys under his or her fingers, getting started is largely a matter of finding a qualified instructor and putting in plenty of practice time. Learning a new instrument can be deeply rewarding, but it can also be frustrating. The good news is, there is not much of a correlation between musical ability and the positive impacts of playing music on the brain, so even people who may never find themselves playing in front of an audience can still benefit from spending time in front of the piano.

Make a Positive Change

There are plenty of compelling reasons to learn how to play an instrument. Learning to play the piano won’t just increase an aspiring musician’s IQ. It can also improve mood, increase feelings of self-worth and confidence, and create opportunities for socializing with others. Getting started is as simple as purchasing a piano, finding a qualified instructor, and practicing as often as possible to start building new connections in the brain.

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