The Importance of Neuroscience in Teaching Music

14 Aug, 2019

If the left hemisphere of the brain performs tasks like logic and mathematics and the right one is connected to creativity and arts, you might conclude that playing music activates the second hemisphere. Wrong. Playing music is like fireworks for the brain, as it encompasses connections on both sides of the brain: ‘‘Playing a musical instrument practically engages every part of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory and motor cortexes.” What is more interesting, according to research, is that music literally fills the gap between the two hemispheres, called corpus callosum, responsible for the transmission of messages from one hemisphere to another; as playing music increases the activity in this area of the brain, information is easily transmitted from one side to another. 

Let’s dive right into the anatomy of the brain 

Anatomically, the brain is composed by three parts: the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the brainstem. Out of all three, the cerebrum is the biggest and also the one hosting the above-mentioned right and left hemispheres. Moreover, the cerebrum controls important actions, such as:

  • interpreting touch;

  • sight and hearing;  

  • speech;

  • reasoning;

  • emotions;

  • learning;

  • movement.

Therefore, when it comes to connecting neuroscience to teaching music, we refer to the cerebrum, with its both hemispheres. The outer layer of the brain called the cerebral cortex, or even and more commonly grey matter, is populated by numerous cells, namely neurons, which communicate with each other via synapses. When put under the radar of an FMRI, the brain of a music player can be compared to a session of fireworks, because of the multiple areas it stimulates and lights up.  

Who can learn how to play music? 

Let’s set the record straight from the very beginning. There is no such thing as a musically-brain. When it comes to learning, especially arts, each and every child is different, with his or her needs, rhythm and pace. There might be talent, yes. And that will alleviate both the learning and the teaching process. But the key to success, when it comes to learning, is repetition. And it is not me or research the one who says it, it is the brain itself. To assimilate new patterns, because this is what music, math or any other learned field is, we need to do it over and over again until it becomes a reflex, be it a Beethoven Sonata or a drawing technique. 

So, the right answer to your question is anyone. Anyone can indulge in the pleasure of music learning. And if determined enough, one can even become a composer in time. To encourage you to teach even the youngest, I will give you this: ‘‘It is amazing to consider the fact that a baby is born with about 100 billion neurons, each with approximately 2,500 synaptic connections. By the time a child is three years old, it is close to 15,000 per neuron. Synapses form rapidly in the first 5 years of life: 700-1,000 new synapses per second!‘‘ (

What is and why go for active learning? 

Learning is a complex process, which can be viewed from many angles and categorized in many ways. As stated by Learning styles online, there are at least seven of them, classified according to their manifestation, the materials required and also the part of the brain involved in the process.

We have: visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary learning. When it comes to teaching music, all learning styles could be approached at different learning stages. Most importantly, we note about the aural learning that it is handled by the temporal lobes, with the right lobe being especially important for music. 

Another and a more practical way of categorizing learning is as passive and active. If the first is a static one, based on simple sensory inputs required by reading a book or listening to the voice of a music teacher, the latter is a more dynamic one. Just as its name states, active learning engages the learner more, by requiring a high degree of interaction. It is proved that in this way, the retention is increased. 

Donald A. Hodges mentions in his study Can neuroscience help us do a better job of teaching music?, the importance of resorting to active learning when it comes to music teaching. He gives the example of drum playing or rhythm learning. For instance, if you want children to find out more about African drum playing, you could, on the one hand, show them a video of someone playing the drums, but on the other, make the children play the drums themselves. In the first scenario, we would be talking about passive learning, as the children would only have to activate their listening in order to learn. In the second scenario, though, they would have to activate their hearing, their muscles and attention to take the drums and produce the sound themselves. At first sight, passive learning seems to be easier, as it does not engage the student, but because it only puts him or her in the corner while listening, this might also be called the method of the lazy teacher

Of course, it would be much easier for someone to just play a video rather than make all the children engage in the activity of drum playing. But when you begin playing is the moment when the fireworks start blooming and the colors intensify within the brain – when the learning technique takes us behind the wheel and makes us the decisive factor of our destination.

Download Research Document Tell us your email Address and We'll send

Leave a Comment