Musicians Learn Everything Faster

From a study by Rosenkranz K, Williamon A, and Rothwell JC:

Musicians not only have extraordinary motor and sensory skills, but they also have an increased ability to learn new tasks compared with non-musicians [emphasis added]. We examined how these features are expressed in neurophysiological parameters of excitability and plasticity in the motor system by comparing the results of 11 professional musicians and 8 age-matched non-musicians. Parameters of motor excitability were assessed using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to measure motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) together with recruitment of corticospinal projections [input-output curve (IOcurve)] and of short-latency intracortical inhibition (SICIcurve). Plasticity, here defined as change of synaptic effectiveness, was tested by measuring MEPs and IOcurves after paired associative stimulation (PAS), which consists of an electric median nerve stimulus repeatedly paired (200 times at 0.25 Hz) with a TMS pulse over the hand motor area. Using an interstimulus interval of 25 ms (PAS25) or 10 ms (PAS10), this leads to long-term potentiation- or long-term depression-like plasticity, respectively. Musicians showed steeper recruitment of MEPs and SICI (IOcurve and SICIcurve). Additionally, PAS25 increased and PAS10 decreased the MEP amplitudes and the slope of the IOcurves significantly more in musicians than in non-musicians. This is consistent with a wider modification range of synaptic plasticity in musicians. Together with the steeper recruitment of corticospinal excitatory and intracortical inhibitory projections, this suggests that they [musicians] regulate plasticity and excitability with a higher gain than normal. Because some of these changes depend on age at which instrumental playing commenced and on practice intensity, they may reflect an increase in number and modifiability of synapses within the motor area caused by long-term musical practice [emphasis added].

This study confirms the results of other studies dealing with the correlations of music training with higher test scores and greater ability to learn in fields as diverse as mathematics, languages, and history, and explains it–musicians learn faster because their brains form new synapses more quickly. This also means greater neuroplasticity, which in turn explains why musicians have slower onset of dementia, Alzheimers, and other brain-involved disorders. There’s no getting around this evidence that musical training transforms people’s lives in unexpected ways. Although the study authors quite sensibly suggest that the earlier music training begins, the better, there’s no doubt that musical training enhances brain function even at advanced ages. So pick up the phone or send an email, contact your local music teacher and enroll today!

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