Published July 2009 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Music is Brain Food Scholars have long praised the worth of music for the enrichment of human existence. The Greek philosopher Plato observed "Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul." The English playwright, George Lillo wrote that, "There's no sure passion in the human soul, but finds its food in music."
All of us have experienced how music can influence our mood. Now, there is growing scientific evidence that music can be a "mega vitamin" for the developing brains of children and for adult brains as well – even for individuals whose brains have been damaged by injury or disease.
Music training is often greeted by students with about the same enthusiasm as getting a tooth pulled. However, a recent Harvard University study found that children who study a musical instrument for at least three years outperform children who lack such training, even on tests measuring verbal ability and visual pattern completion-skills not normally associated with musical training. Music students also scored better on tests involving auditory discrimination and finger dexterity.
The longer and more intensely a child studied his or her instrument, the better he or she scored on all tests. These findings highlight the importance of music instruction for our youth.
Whether it be singing or playing an instrument, music has also been found to help brains damaged by disease or injury to find re-routed neural pathways, influencing and improving motor function, communication and even cognition. In one Finnish study, something as simple as listening to music for several hours a day was found to enhance the recovery of stroke victims. Musical and rhythmic cues have also helped the movement and balance of people with degenerative disorders, as well as aphasia, a disorder resulting from damage to the portions of the brain responsible for language.
As much as I love music for its own sake, I am even more gratified to find out that music has benefits beyond the joy in its making and the beauty in hearing it played. It is clear that music is more than food for the soul-it is food for the brain as well. We would all do well to make it an integral part of our daily lives.
July 22, 2009