Have you ever heard the saying that a person can play music by ear? I always found this to be a bit perplexing. I began learning the cello when I was in 5th grade and continued until 8th grade. I still remember bass clef to this day, however I could never play a song on my cello just from hearing it once. I would need sheet music.
So for these people that are able to play by ear, is music like a language to them? Are their ears tuned to the pitches and tones as if it were the back of their hand?
I have also heard that music improves cognition. For example if you practice music you perform better in math. I heard this frequently in Orchestra and with all the time measures it makes sense. Music is built on time, timing, and tempo. The brain becomes a timer that syncs your arm movements to match the tempo of the Orchestra. It is quite fascinating how it all comes together. But does music actually have anything to do with improved cognition? Some people believe so.
Two scientists at University of Auckland, Patston and Tippett tested two groups of adults to investigate a similar matter. The study was about whether brains of musician’s process music in the same brain area where language is processed.
The first group was of 36 musicians that had been studying music for at least 10 years and had experience with performing at University or national level. The non-musicians had less than four years of musical training or no training.
Each participant had completed language comprehension tests and tests of visuospatial ability. Each test was given under three different conditions– a test was given in silence, classical music on the piano played correctly, and classical music played on the piano incorrectly.
When observing results musicians performed better than the non-musicians on both tests under all conditions. Musical training seems to enhance cognitive ability.
The test has room for inaccuracy however due to there being a possibility of IQ levels being different between the two groups.
Non-musician’s test scores had no significant difference when testing under the different musical conditions. Only two out of the entire group even noticed that one portion of the music being played was being performed out of key.
When being given the visuospatial tests the musicians performed well regardless of the inclusion of music or silence. Music is processed with different brain areas than the visuospatial stimuli are processed. It was expected to do no harm on the score.
However when analyzing the language tests, the musicians performed worse on the test than when music was playing. This result possibly proves that music and language are being processed by the same neural networks.
It could not be an issue of divided attention, or being distracted by the music. If it was the muscleman would have done equally bad on the visuospatial test. Meaning that musicians process music as a language.
So perhaps these talented people that can play by ear process music like a language too? Which would make it so much easier for them to re-enact it. Can this process be learned for just anyone if enough time is put in?