Let’s be honest: it feels good to think that musicians have better brains than the average person. To some, it sounds like a stereotype—but there’s no denying that being a professional musician requires an incredible amount of focus and intelligence. So, is there any truth behind the idea that playing music makes you smarter?
Music and math have a lot in common. Both are creative fields that require creative thinking, and both are abstract—they don't have to be real-world objects (although they certainly can be). And both require a lot of practice!
In addition to these similarities, there is a shared vocabulary between music and math. The word "scale" comes from the Latin word for "ladder". Just like the steps on a ladder can help you reach higher places, scales in music help you play higher notes by playing smaller intervals between each note. In fact, this analogy even extends into how many musicians use mathematics to calculate intervals: if you know how many half steps it takes to get from one note to another, then you can figure out its distance by multiplying that number by two—because two half steps make up one whole step.
The answer is complicated.
Musicians are smarter than average, but only in some ways. They have the same intelligence quotient as other people, but their brains are more efficient at processing information and solving problems.
It's not because you're a musician that makes you smarter—it's because of your personality type that makes you a musician. People with lower IQs who also like music tend to be more drawn toward it than people with higher IQs who don't like music as much; this means there's a correlation between being musically inclined and having lower intelligence levels.
You can become smarter by playing an instrument, or even just listening to it! Researchers found that piano lessons boosted brain function in children ages 5-8 by improving their problem-solving skills and increasing their attention spans (as well as making them better readers and writers).
As the saying goes, you can't be good at everything. While musicians are best at things like music and math, they aren't necessarily the best at other cognitive tasks. A study published in Psychological Science found that musicians scored lower than non-musicians on measures of verbal memory (remembering what you learn), but had superior visual memory (storing images).
The study also found that musicians have higher IQs overall—not just in music—and that this apparent intelligence advantage may be due to the fact that they engage with more complex structures and processes over time.
If you're a musician, chances are you already knew that the average IQ of people who play music is higher than other professions. But it's important to note that there's no such thing as an "average" musician. Some musicians may be smarter than others, and some may be dumber than others! And some may even have IQs that fall below or above the national average for non-musicians.
There are many factors that influence intelligence: genetics, environment and lifestyle choices, access to opportunities for education and enrichment activities like music lessons—to name just a few. So while it's true that one could make broad generalizations about the intelligence levels of people in different professions based on their career choices alone (like “doctors have higher IQs than lawyers”), those generalizations don't account for individual variations within each profession (e.g., there are plenty of doctors with lower-than-average intelligence).
Playing music can improve your cognitive abilities and help you learn a foreign language.
"Music has been shown to enhance brain plasticity and strengthen the neural pathways associated with learning—so it's no surprise that playing an instrument can have significant benefits for children in school," writes The Guardian. "Music training improves working memory and leads to increased IQ scores, according to research conducted by University of London psychologist Felicity Callard."
Playing music also helps us be more empathetic people. According to MIT researchers: "Learning how to play an instrument is a very complex task that requires coordination between both hemispheres of the brain; therefore, it may be possible that musical training could alter the way these two sides interact." And they found that people who had previous musical experience were better at reading emotions than those who didn't have any.
The truth is, musicians are just like the rest of us. The amount of intelligence you have depends on your personality, and how much time you spend thinking about music. Some people are naturally better at it than others—but that doesn't mean they're necessarily more intelligent overall.
When it comes to IQ, there's one thing all musicians seem to agree on: playing an instrument will not make you smarter or dumber as a person. In fact, studies show that learning an instrument could improve cognitive abilities later in life!
So if being a musician doesn't make anyone smarter or dumber as a person... What does?
It’s a fact that music and memory are closely connected. Music is so powerful, it can be used as a tool to help people remember things. Research has shown that playing music while studying can help you better retain information. In fact, some scientists believe this is because the rhythm of the music encourages your brain to think in time with it, making it easier for you to understand what you’re reading.
The way I see it, there are three possible explanations for this phenomenon:
Music makes you smarter (which would be great news for musicians)
Smart people just like listening to music
There's no causal relationship between intelligence and musicality at all
We hope that we’ve convinced you that the answer to this question is maybe. It’s not clear whether or not musicians are any smarter than other people, but it can certainly be fun to think about. If you want to learn more about the science behind music and intelligence, check out our post on why we like certain types of music so much or even take a look at some interesting facts about famous composers! For more fun blogs check out our school providing music lessons in Redmond