Music Training and Executive Function

As musicians practice and play music, they build many skills. Let’s look at several key abilities that musicians develop.

Music requires the ability to pay attention and focus. When you play or sing music, you have to focus on the notes that you are playing, as well as how to produce them with your body or your instrument.

When playing music, you have to control your impulses. Musicians have to know when to make a sound with their instrument or voice, and when to remain quiet.

Musicians also use flexible thinking skills. Piano players, for example, have to read two lines of music at once. One line that tells them what notes to play with their right hand, and another tells them what to play with their left.

Playing music requires you to remember multiple things at once. As you read musical notes on a page, you have to remember what to play while also looking at what notes are coming next. You have to remember features of the music, like how fast to play, or what pattern of beats the song has. If you aren’t reading sheet music, then you have to remember all your parts in the song: what notes to play, and when not to play. That’s a lot of memory practice!

  • Beat
    the regular pulse of music
    Electroencephalography (EEG)
    a non-invasive method used to measure electrical activity in the brain
    Executive function
    a set of mental abilities that help us focus attention, remember information, and switch between tasks
    Magnetoencephalography (MEG)
    a non-invasive brain imaging technique used to determine which regions of the brain are active
    a grouping of beats with specific patterns
    the ability to change how neurons in our brain are connected to each other
    the measure of how high or low we perceive sounds to be
    Pro-social behavior
    actions that are intended to help others
    Synchronized movement
    movements that occur in sync with musical beats and, or with other people
    the quality of a musical sound or voice that allows us to tell the differences between instruments or voices