We all know based on our own anecdotal observations that musicians’ brains seem to function a little differently than everyone else’s. Well, it seems that research, in fact, does confirm that to be true. According to multiple studies, playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum — the bridge between the two hemispheres — allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes.
It is suspected that this is what allows musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively than most other people. Playing music, it seems, is extremely beneficial to higher brain function. Playing an instrument involves almost every area of the brain at once — specifically the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. And, as with any other workout, we get stronger as we repeat the same workout exercising the same muscle or our brains.
Playing music also involves creating and understanding its emotional content and message. Therefore, musicians also have higher levels of executive function — a category of interlinked tasks that include planning, strategizing, and attention to detail, and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects. According to the Journal of American Medicine, most non-musicians do not generally have this combination of brain function.
Playing an instrument also has an impact on how our memory systems work. And, indeed, musicians exhibit enhanced memory functions — creating, storing, and retrieving memories more quickly and efficiently. Studies have found that musicians appear to use their highly connected brains to give each memory multiple tags, such as a conceptual tag, an emotional tag, an audio tag, and a contextual tag — like a good internet search engine. This allows them to do things like being able to recall entire pieces of music that they may not have played for many years. Doesn’t it seem like they have an entire library in their minds when you make a special request and they know it perfectly without looking at sheet music? Part of this is because of those emotional tags that they seem to effortlessly access “that library” at will.