Some people will vehemently defend that they are “left-brained” or “right-brained”, but we all use both sides of our brain. More importantly, we all have cells in our brain that communicate from one side to the other so that both may be of use. These cells live in a part of the brain called the corpus callosum, and the more you train these communicating cells, the better they are at their job. Musicians have a leg up on non-musicians because playing an instrument requires that both the left brain and the right brain to communicate simultaneously, effectively using these communicating cells to the max.
These communicating cells are known as white matter, and there is strong evidence to suggest that the white matter in a musician’s brain is better at communicating between the different brain regions than that of a non-musician. This is especially the case of musicians who began studying music before the age of 7 (Steele et al., 2013). When tested, adult musicians who began playing music at 7 years old or younger had the highest scores of motor and synchronization skills when compared to musicians who began playing music after the age of 7 and non-musicians. Furthermore, when looking at images of these early learners’ brains, they had much more white matter present. This suggests that learning to play a musical instrument early in life will lead to better motor timing, synchronization skills, and an increased ability for different regions of the brain to communicate with one another (Steele et al., 2013). These benefits are clear many years after the initial exposure to learning how to play music – well into adulthood. And this is all owed to the white matter, those communicating cells, being trained to be used effectively from early childhood.
Citation: Steele et al. Early Musical Training and White-Matter Plasticity in the Corpus Callosum: Evidence for a Sensitive Period. The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience(Impact Factor: 6.75). 01/2013; 33(3):1282–1290. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3578-12.2013