Music practice can sharpen the brain


Playing an instrument could sharpen the mind, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of St Andrews said their findings showed musicians were quicker to pick up mistakes and correct them.

The study adds to previous studies linking musical skills with mental and physical well-being. The team said their results indicated musical activity could be used to slow, stop or even reverse age and illness-related decline in mental functioning.

The study compared groups of amateur musicians – with varying levels of time they had spent in practicing their instrument – to a non-musician control group. Researchers then measured each group’s behavioural and brain responses to simple mental tests.

A new study by researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland concludes that people who practice playing musical instruments have sharper brains because they pick up mistakes in their performance and fix them more quickly than other people.


Writing about their work in a recent issue of the journal Neuropsychologia, psychologist Doctor Ines Jentzsch and colleagues suggest playing music may help guard against mental decline, either through age or disease.

In the Stroop test, participants are presented with names of colors depicted in colors that do not necessarily match. For instance, the word “blue” might be shown in the color red, and the word “green” shown in the color blue.

This sets up a conflict in the mind of the participant, who is asked to name the color of each word as it appears before them. The naming of the color is more prone to errors when it does not match the color in which it is presented.

In this study, the researchers were interested, among other things, in reaction times, accuracy and also the amount of post-error adjustment that went on.

Never too late to learn and practice music

Dr. Jentzsch implores policymakers looking for ways to save money in times of hardship to reconsider making cuts in funding for education and arts, and she even recommends increasing spending on music teaching, explaining that:

“Musical activity cannot only immensely enrich our lives, but the associated benefits for our physical and mental functioning could be even more far-reaching than proposed in our and previous research.”

She also urges adults who have never played a musical instrument and who say they are too old, to learn to pick one up and start practicing music, because “it’s never too late.”