This is a research paper that I wrote for an online writing course. It was my first experience with strictly following writing guidelines(Including margins and spacing, although I could not preserve those settings here) and making citations. In this paper, I used the MLA guidelines. I like how the subject of the paper combines two topics that I am interested in.
Writing: Research Papers and Essays
5 October, 2018
The Mental Benefits of Learning to Play Music at a Young Age
There has been music in human culture for longer than you might think. Musical instruments are among the oldest manmade objects ever found. Music was developed long before agriculture, and it might even have preceded language, as it could have been one of the factors that helped to create language. A love for music has not been naturally selected against, meaning that it might be, or might have been, good for survival or breeding in the human population. Thus, it has been very important for early humans and much used in our culture (Levitin 250). As it is such an essential thing in our culture and our minds, music can have life-changing effects. Young people who play music can get the largest benefits from these effects, even if they only play music for one or two years. All children should start learning a musical instrument by the time they are eight years old, because playing music can help brain development in ways that can benefit their thinking, mood and social life.
Why eight years old? The reason why it is best to start learning music at a young age is related to neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s amazing ability to change, in both structural and functional ways, to suit the environment, making the different parts of the brain similar to muscles in that they grow and become more effective when they are used often. Neuroplasticity for different skills peaks at certain times, known as critical periods. During a critical period for a skill, experiences related to that skill have larger effects on brain development. After a critical period, those experiences have little or no effect on brain development. The critical period for many things, such as learning languages, happens at about six or seven years of age (Mundkur 855-56). Someone can still become a good musician if they started learning after this age, but they would not have some added benefits that they would otherwise have, such as the increased amount of connections across different parts of the brain.
One of the findings about brain changes in musicians is that parts of the corpus callosum are larger when the subject has been playing music for a long time (Jancke). The corpus callosum is a bundle of nerve fibers that link the right and left hemispheres of the brain with each other. Another finding is that musicians have a stronger link in between their auditory and motor brain regions than nonmusicians. These are both adaptations for playing music, but the strengthened linkage in the brain might also be useful in other tasks (Jancke). An increased amount of connectivity is helpful, but there are other changes that music makes to the brain, some of which can be more widely applied.
Besides making the brain more connected, playing music can help develop academical skills. Recent studies have shown that musicians have better working memory than nonmusicians. Working memory lets people remember things temporarily while they are thinking about something else, so improved working memory makes people better at tasks involving reading and math (Benefits of Music Education 3). Amazingly, another study compared IQ scores of two study groups: children who were taught music, and children who were taught drama, and discovered that, after one year, the group that was taught music had a slightly higher average IQ score than the drama group, suggesting that children who play music can do better academically (Schellenberg 513). There are many ways that music is good for thinking and intelligence, but these things also depend on mood and general wellbeing, which music can also affect.
There are many ways that playing music is beneficial with feelings. One benefit is relieving stress or decreasing depression. A study by Jaakko Erkkila and colleagues used 79 adults with unipolar depression. One group was given normal treatment for the depression, and the other group was given music therapy as well as normal treatment. The music therapy consisted of tasks related to making music, including playing simple melodies, singing and improvisation. Over six months, the music therapy group showed a much larger improvement than the control group. The difference between these results is considered to be clinically relevant (132-36). It can be very good for someone’s overall mental health that music works well against depression, but this is not the only time when it can strongly affect feelings.
Music is shown to create positive feelings as well as suppress negative ones. Part of the way that it does this is that it gives musicians a sense of achievement, which can be caused by learning to play a song, getting into an ensemble or performing. Something that a musician will tend to do, especially if they play in an ensemble, is listen to music more often. Music listening has many known benefits. This has been demonstrated by a Swedish study, carried out by Professor Juslin and his team. Several students carried small computers which made beeping sounds at random times of the day. When each student heard the sound, they answered questions about whether they heard music at that time or not, and how they were feeling. The results were that, in any situation, music made them feel happier or more relaxed than at the times when they were not listening to music (Powell 37). Happiness can be elevated by music for all of the reasons described above, but happiness sometimes depends on social contact, and surprisingly, music can benefit a musician’s life in this way too.
Social life can heavily affect feelings, which in turn leads to changes in mental health, and there are ways that music can help people have a better social life through changes in the brain. One of these changes is a better auditory cortex which leads to empathy. In one study, young children who played music for six months showed more improvement in discriminating tones in speech than children who did not (Moreno et al. 712). Because subtle tones in speech sometimes indicate how a person is feeling, this helps children who play music have more empathy. This has been shown in toddlers who played music together (Benefits of Music Education 6). The increase in empathy means that people who play music can do better socially, even though this is mainly with the people they already know.
There are ways that music can make a person more successful socially by meeting new people and bonding with them. A very common thing for musicians is to play together in a small group, band, ensemble or orchestra. This not only gives them more social contact, but it also makes people socially bond with each other (Tarr, Launay and Dunbar). This bonding can let people make new friends more easily, leading to a better social life.
Seeing what kind of changes music causes to the brain, both temporary and permanent, the conclusion is that music benefits a musician’s life in many aspects, including that they are able to do better academically, emotionally and socially. All of these benefits are related to important factors for the success of a person’s life and their wellbeing. Most of the benefits are caused by changes in the brain, so if someone learns music at a young age when they have more neuroplasticity, they keep the benefits for their whole lives. Efforts should be made to teach music to young children more in schools and at homes, and to make learning music more affordable, so that yet more people can enjoy the benefits it brings.
The Benefits of Music Education: An Overview of Current Neuroscience Research. Toronto, Canada: The Royal Conservatory of Music, 2012. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Erkkila, Jaakko et al. "Individual Music Therapy for Depression: Randomised Controlled Trial." The British Journal of Psychiatry 199.2 (2011): 132-39. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Jancke, Lutz. "Music Drives Brain Plasticity." F1000 Biology Reports 1.78 (2009): n.pag. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Levitin, Daniel J. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.
Moreno, Sylvian et al. "Musical Training Influences Linguistic Abilities in 8-Year-Old Children: More Evidence for Brain Plasticity." Cerebral Cortex 19.3 (2009): 712-23. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Mundkur, Nandini. "Neuroplasticity in Children." The Indian Journal of Pediatrics. 72.10 (2005): 855-57. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Powell, John. Why We Love Music: From Mozart to Metallica - The Emotional Power of Beautiful Sounds. Great Britan: John Murray, 2016. Print.
Schellenberg, E. Glenn. "Music Lessons Enhance IQ." Psychological Science 15.8 (2004): 511-14. Web. 1 Oct. 2018.
Tarr, Bronwyn, Jacques Launday and Robin I. M. Dunbar. "Music and Social Bonding: "Self-other" Merging and Neurohormonal Mechanisms." Frontiers in Psychology 5.1096 (2014): n. pag. Web. 2 Oct. 2018.