Does Listening to Music Make Learning Tasks Easier?


Music is used in many ways, including enjoyment, education and for therapeutic purposes.

Now, research shows that using music to learn a physical task can aid in developing the parts of the brain that process sound and control movement.

Credit: finwal81 / 123RF Stock Photo

The team conducting the study at the University of Edinburgh published their findings in the journal Brain & Cognition, showing that music can help pave the roads between different portions of the brain, therefore strengthening connectivity. This can be of great benefit to people who are suffering from loss of motor control on a small level, as these findings can support the use of music in rehabilitation for these patients.

Led by Dr. Kate Overy, the research team used a team of volunteers (all right-handed) to learn a task with their non-dominant hand. They were required to learn a sequence of finger movements with their left hand, with one group using musical cues to remember the sequence and the other learning the movements without music.

Related: Music Therapy May Reduce Pain After Surgery

The end result was the same between groups: both groups learned the sequences equally well. However, the group using music showed a marked difference in their MRI brain scans compared to the non-music group of volunteers.

According to the MRI scans, the group using music to learn the finger sequence showed a “significant increase” in the connectivity of the right side of the brain, allowing different areas to better process movement and sound. The group that did not use music, however, did not show any real change in their MRI scans.

The implications of this study mean that music has the potential to restore movement, or prevent loss of movement by promoting the brain’s processing and communication systems. Overy stated, “The study suggests that music makes a key difference. We have long known that music encourages people to move. This study provides the first experimental evidence that adding musical cues to learning new motor tasks can lead to changes in white matter structure in the brain.”

Related: Some People’s Brains Are Wired to Not Enjoy Music

Even the act of simply listening to music can “light up” the entire brain. According to a past study done by the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, different musical types can “activate emotional, motor and creative areas of the brain.” By combining music with tactile function, such as learning the finger sequences, it can be expected that the brain will react differently.

Although both groups in the University of Edinburgh study learned the sequences with the same level of proficiency, the brain reacted much differently to the process of learning.

The experiment done in these groups sounds strangely similar to learning a dance routine, using musical cues to learn a physical routine. Dancing is extremely beneficial for the brain, and is even used in some instances to treat Parkinson’s disease. While some may shy away from the dance floor, it can never hurt to bust a move — consider it exercise for the body and the brain.