Music and attention

Music develops our attention and concentration in many different ways.

Today I’d love to speak about the ability to pay attention to auditory stimuli that musicians’ brain develops and why this is so important.

Our daily life subjects our brains to a huge amount of sound stimuli simultaneously. Our brain performs very complex operations to discriminate the sounds it wants to pay attention to, using cognitive functions related to the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe.

The ability to discriminate sound stimuli allows us, for example, to be able to direct our attention towards the sound of our friend’s voice in a noisy room.

Musicians can discriminate between different auditory stimuli better than non-musicians.

The Kraus lab at Northwestern* performed an EEG study and found that musicians had better auditory attention scores than non-musician counterparts when listening to various sources of speech. The main difference was presented in the musicians’ prefrontal cortex. The latter is often associated with attention and control, as well as personality and values.

The most fascinating part of this study was that the magnitude of the effect correlated to how long the musicians had played music.

People with more years of musical training had a prefrontal cortex that “paid better attention” than people who had fewer years of musical training. It seemed that people who had spent more time training their brains via musical study had prefrontal cortexes that were better at locking their attention.

Playing music alters the prefrontal cortexes and therefore influences the capabilities to pay attention to other activities in life. Being able to attend to different auditory stimuli can be helpful for a multitude of people; students might better be able to focus in school, sports players might hear each other over the sounds of the stadium and ground crew at airports might hear orders more accurately over the sound of airplane engines.

So, it seems like the time to recognise the importance of music in our daily life has finally come.


*Strait DL, & Kraus N (2011). Can you hear me now? Musical training shapes functional brain networks for selective auditory attention and hearing speech in noise. Frontiers in psychology, 2 PMID: 21716636

Music and Memory

The connection between music and memory is really strong and develops in many different ways!

For example:

  • we can use music to learn a new language memorising the lyrics of a song in a different language;
  • we can play music to recall memories from the past;
  • we can sing an old song to stimulate an injured brain… the possibilities are many!

When children are involved in music activities, they need to memorise the rules of the game, the melody, the lyrics and the movement, developing in that moment working memory.

What about when a child is learning how to play an instrument? Their memory is always involved!

 Let’s make an example:

– a child to be able to read the note DO on the music stave must recall the information stored in their memory regarding the other notes and correlate them with a first mental representation, both visual and auditory (semantic memory);

– coordinate the fingers using a whole set of visuospatial, auditory and motor programming strategies that involve short and long-term memory (and not only);

– implement a set of cognitive functions including working memory, to control and balance gesture-sound coordination.

Easy, right? 🙂

A musician’s brain is different

Studies suggest that musicians have better:

  • memory
  • understanding of non-verbal communication
  • coordination and dexterity
  • learning abilities
  • attention to detail
  • understanding of cognitive and emotional aspects of information
  • planning and strategising skills

Every week we will analyse one of these aspects that are really important to us as music educators and therapists for the development of our students’ musical skills.

First one: memory!

Music and Executive Function

Our paper regarding the impact of music on the development of the executive functions in children 3-4 yo is getting ready! This is the next step after the research we run last year with Creative Futures and the University College London. Describing the activities and highlighting the process that brought us to significant changes is such a long process… but we love it! #musiceducationnerd 😂
We will then publish the activities and the musical examples of our research! Stay in touch!