The Benefits of Playing Music Help Your Brain More Than Any Other Activity

By John Rampton Entrepreneur and investor  @johnrampton

Brain training is big business. Companies like BrainHQ, Lumosity, and Cogmed are part of a multimillion-dollar business that is expected to surpass $3 billion by 2020. But does what they offer actually benefit your brain?

Researchers don't believe so. In fact, the University of Illinois determined that there's little or no evidence that these games improve anything more than the specific tasks being trained. Lumosity's maker was even fined $2 million for false claims.

So, if these brain games don't work, then what will keep your brain sharp? The answer? Learning to play a musical instrument.

Why Being a Musician Is Good for Your Brain

Science has shown that musical training can change brain structure and function for the better. It can also improve long-term memory and lead to better brain development for those who start at a young age.

Furthermore, musicians tend to be more mentally alert, according to new research from a University of Montreal study.

"The more we know about the impact of music on really basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical training to individuals who might have slower reaction times," said lead researcher Simon Landry.

"As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower," said Landry. "So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them."

Previously, Landry found that musicians have faster auditory, tactile, and audio-tactile reaction times. Musicians also have an altered statistical use of multisensory information. This means that they're better at integrating the inputs from various senses.

"Music probably does something unique," explains neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday of the University of Westminster. "It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way because of our emotional connection with it."

Unlike brain games, playing an instrument is a rich and complex experience. This is because it's integrating information from the senses of vision, hearing, and touch, along with fine movements. This can result in long-lasting changes in the brain. These can be applicable in the business world.

Changes in the Brain

Brain scans have been able to identify the difference in brain structure between musicians and non-musicians. Most notably, the corpus callosum, a massive bundle of nerve fibers connecting the two sides of the brain, is larger in musicians. Also, the areas involving movement, hearing, and visuospatial abilities appear to be larger in professional keyboard players.

Initially, these studies couldn't determine if these differences were caused by musical training or if anatomical differences predispose some to become musicians. Ultimately, longitudinal studies showed that children who do 14 months of musical training displayed more powerful structural and functional brain changes.

These studies prove that learning a musical instrument increases gray matter volume in various brain regions, It also strengthens the long-range connections between them. Additional research shows that musical training can enhance verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy skills.

Long-Lasting Benefits for Musicians

Brain-scanning studies have found that the anatomical change in musicians' brains is related to the age when training began. It shouldn't be surprising, but learning at a younger age causes the most drastic changes.

Interestingly, even brief periods of musical training can have long-lasting benefits. A 2013 study found that even those with moderate musical training preserved sharp processing of speech sounds. It was also able to increase resilience to any age-related decline in hearing.

Researchers also believe that playing music helps speech processing and learning in children with dyslexia. Furthermore, learning to play an instrument as a child can protect the brain against dementia.

"Music reaches parts of the brain that other things can't," says Loveday. "It's a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust."

Other Ways Learning an Instrument Strengthens Your Brain

Guess what? We're still not done. Here are eight additional ways that learning an instrument strengthens your brain.

  1. Strengthens bonds with others.This shouldn't be surprising. Think about your favorite band. They can only make a record when they have contact, coordination, and cooperation with one another.
  2. Strengthens memory and reading skills. The Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University states this is because music and reading are related via common neural and cognitive mechanisms.
  3. Playing music makes you happy.McMaster University discovered that babies who took interactive music classes displayed better early communication skills. They also smiled more.
  4. Musicians can process multiple things at once. As mentioned above, this is because playing music forces you to process multiple senses at once. This can lead to superior multisensory skills.
  5. Music increases blood flow in your brain. Studies have found that short bursts of musical training increase the blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain. That can be helpful when you need a burst of energy. Skip the energy drink and jam for 30 minutes.
  6. Music helps the brain recover.Motor control improved in everyday activities with stroke patients.
  7. Music reduces stress and depression.A study of cancer patients found that listening to and playing music reduced anxiety. Another study revealed that music therapy lowered levels of depression and anxiety.
  8. Musical training strengthens the brain's executive function. Executive function covers critical tasks like processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, making decisions, and problem solving. If strengthened, you can boost your ability to live. Musical training can improve and strengthen executive functioning in both children and adults.



Children in Early Years have loved  joining in with specialist lessons in the last 2 weeks. 

They have been singing and  dancing in music, greeting each other in Swahili lessons...

... and being really active in P.E, fine tuning athletic skills and co-ordination.

To add to a really active week....

Madame Tiana has begun a weekly  story telling session, which has had the children spellbound. There is nothing quite like listening to stories to fire up the imagination and give children confidence in their creative thinking.

Are You Eating Healthily?

Year 1 and 2 are focusing on the topic of healthy eating. Last week we spent the morning 'cooking' together.

They enjoyed creating rainbow fruit kebabs, apple pizzas and cars made of bread. 

Cooking with children encourages team work, improves fine motor skills, risk taking and allows them the opportunity to try new foods... that they have prepared.  

What will you cook with your child this week? 

News from the Infant School, Njiro!

It's been a busy week at the Infant School, with our Welcome Picnic and a number of parent workshops this week. 

Working in partnership with parents and/or carers is central to the EYFS. Consulting them about children’s early experiences helps teachers plan for effective learning and helps them support parents in continuing their children's learning development at home.

The benefits of a strong parent partnership are wide-ranging and include:

  • improved educational outcomes for children
  • effective ways of engaging parents in their children’s learning
  • improved communication between parents and practitioners
  • improved relationships between parents and children
  • And of course... making new friends! 


The Importance of Reading.

“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
Go throw your TV set away
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall…”
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roadl Dahl

Over the years, parents ask, “What can I do to help my child improve in school?”  The answer has always been, “Get them to read more. Less screen time, more book time.” 

It is a known fact that watching a film or playing a computer game is like eating junk food. The images and story are already formed – the imagination sleeps – and craves more of the same – like we do sweets. However, when reading a book, the imagination is alive. The characters form in our minds along with the settings, the colours and tones of conversations, and we actually feel alongside our characters. The benefits of this intellectual endeavor are countless. Not only are our imaginations alive and working, but we are also improving our spoken and written language. We all spend far too much time on our phones – texting,  whatsApping,  sending messages on Facebook and on other social media, like Snap Chat. All of this erodes our writing – which isn’t always ‘gr8’….!? Spelling is degraded and vocabulary erodes into a plain about as varied as a Martian landscape.

Reading also teaches us empathy and develops analytical skills. We walk in other worlds, creating empathy, searching for truth. As Malorie Blackman, a well know British children’s author says,  “Reading is an exercise in empathy, an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” 

Students are encouraged to use good, old fashioned dictionaries, rather than a quick google search, because it is a bit like fishing. Along the way, one stumbles across other words caught in our search net. This again helps to increase our vocabulary. 

With this in mind, BISA has extended the library and we encourage our students to read. Students in the sixth form retreat to the library to study. KS3 is allocated reading time. Tutors encourage their students to read and we take an interest in what books they are reading. Many spend long hours on a bus, a perfect time to finish a chapter instead of lining up different colour sweeties in a game of Candy Crush!

It is important to ask your child what he or she is reading and take an interest. “Oh! What’s your book about?” At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter the genre – whether it is the Guinness Book of Records, a good comic like Asterix and Obelix  or a riveting Jane Austen – as long as at least 30 minutes a day is spent reading. It becomes very obvious in a classroom which children read. They are far ahead of others who don’t, academically and empathically.

As teachers and parents we must encourage reading – the doorway to imagination and creative, intelligent thinking. For the little ones, reading a bed time story is one of the best ways to end the day – leaving them with stories for dreams and a feeling of security and safety. For the older ones (including us teachers and parents), there is nothing quite as lovely as jumping into bed with a good book. If it means having to switch off the internet (to stop those midnight sessions of Fortnite (note spelling!?)) then do it. The benefits of reading are countless and your children will thank you for it. It is, quite simply, a gift.

Some links:

A brilliant talk by Rita Carter on the importance of reading:

A lovely talk on how books changed a life: