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Does Playing an Instrument Make You Smarter?

“Smarter” doesn’t mean better than anyone else, or superior.  The word “smarter” means developing a more facile mind which picks up new things quickly. Learning to play an instrument may not alter your perceptions or core beliefs, but playing one requires mastering new techniques, practicing perceptional acuity, and improving your physical dexterity.   

Like learning a new language, learning to make music stretches your mind. 

When you learn another language, you have to associate new words and new ways of expressing yourself with your native vernacular. You work to make the new language familiar enough so that you can both speak it and be understood, as well as to be able to understand it when others speak to you.  

At first glance, music looks easy, but once you begin to play an instrument, you discover there’s a wide realm of knowledge that must be encompassed. Both your physical and mental abilities are challenged to work together to bring life to wood, ivory and metal. The squeaks, the misfingerings, playing the wrong notes, all tie in to learning how to read music and how it relates to playing the instrument. 

Sheet music itself presents unique challenges. The musical staff contains many puzzles to the uninitiated.  Clefs, time signatures, counting, key signatures, accidentals, the types of musical notation that gives you the melody, the chords and the emphasis; rests, Italian words (forte, D.C. al coda or al fine, i.e.), are the language of music. This takes discipline, practice, listening, and mastering its elements to be able to translate marks on a page to notes on an instrument. 

Mastery Takes Practice, Diligence, and Dedication. 

You may already think you’re smart, or maybe you feel like you aren’t.  It may seem daunting, this journey, but remember, even the most famous of musicians practice, fail, work harder and succeed. Your sense memory grows with repetition.  

For every musician, learning when to breathe is vital. András Schiff, surely one of the most respected concert pianists of our time, made the following extraordinary observation in an interview with Pianist Magazine (No.76, Feb-March 2014):

“For me, it is breathing that is vital. You must breathe naturally, like a singer. Pianists and string players often tend to forget the necessity of breathing and they can become very tense; then they get back pains and wrist pains and so on. Usually, it can be sorted out through the breathing.” 

As you begin to grasp the fundamentals and put them into practice, you’ve started to think in a different language, the language of music. Your brain has broadened its way of thinking, creating more context, understanding more about how music is made. Your job is to master playing it on your instrument so that, more and more, its power and message come from you.  

Not many people can grasp these complexities, so congratulations! Now that you have new tools, you can hear a piece of music, play it, and write it down on staff paper.  

You See? Playing Music Does Make You Smarter! 

Now you can interpret great works and even create your own music, inspired by what you’ve learned! Your musical knowledge helps you to become more creative and imaginative, helps you to use music to express pain, happiness and humor. You can use that flexibility to play other instruments, learn other subjects, and overall, be more disciplined, focused, curious, and perceptive. 

Learning to play an instrument has made you more facile. Your curiosity will be insatiable. You’ll want to know more things and master them - and that’s what being “smarter” is about.  

Posted by Cheryl Wolder at 10:56 AM
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