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How Learning Guitar Can Make You Smarter - From Scales To Neural Pathways

Even before we developed means to properly study the human brain, many have pondered whether talented musicians think differently as a result of their love for music. One quick glance at some of the sharpest minds in human history will reveal that a stunning number of them were also capable of playing one instrument or another. 

These days we can observe this phenomenon through the prism of guitars. The reason for this is partially the overall popularity of this instrument, and the fact that it's among the most represented in modern music. So to reformulate the question - does learning guitar make you smarter, and if so, how? 

Types of Intelligence 

One of the most common misconceptions about human intelligence is that there is only one type. The reality is that there are several, including emotional, naturalist, logical and interestingly enough - musical. This classification is fairly recent, and has been proposed by Howard Gardener, an American developmental psychologist, in 1983. He was definitely on to something, which I'll explain later in the text. 

So how does guitar fit into all this? The guitar is one of those instruments which require complete focus and a lot of practice to master, that is fairly obvious by now. However, even when you reach a comfortable skill level where you can play your favorite solo, or a more complicated song, chances are there is always something new to learn. During the process of accomplishing these milestones, your brain is developing new pathways, which transcend your ability to shred on a guitar and enhances many other aspects of your intellect. How well these positive effects will impact you as a person, depends on when you've started learning to play guitar. 

How Does Learning Guitar Make You Smarter? 

In a study performed by Nadine Gaab, Ph.D., working for Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's Hospital, reveals that children actively learning to play an instrument are exhibiting much better executive functions than children who are not musically engaged. Executive functions can be described as ones ability to rapidly process and understand information, solve complex problems in short time frames, and adapt their behavior as well as mental attitude to the situation at hand.  

That's first concrete proof that playing an instrument positively affects more than one type of intelligence - musical and logical. However, a study conducted in Berlin has come to what is probably an even more interesting discovery. Namely, they were researching the effect of having two guitar players perform in sync, as it is the case with most bands these days. What they've found is truly incredible. The comparison was done between guitar players who possessed a similar level of skill, but different amount of experience playing with other musicians. 

Some 12 pairs of guitarists have been carefully monitored only to find that those with a substantial amount of experience are able to turn guitar playing from conscious to subconscious. In other words, parts of their brains which are usually associated with playing an instrument, would simply shut down. As that happened, both guitar players stayed perfectly in sync. 

This conclusion opens up a possibility that musicians are completely re-routing their neural pathways, creating new ones and even bridging the conscious plane with the subconscious one. With that said, there are other, more tangible ways in which playing guitar is beneficial to one's intellect. 

Muscle Memory 

When you bring up muscle memory, many will be quick to disregard it as something completely natural and ordinary. While it is natural, certain levels of muscle memory are nothing but ordinary. Sure, you can train your hand to remember how to perfectly grip a C chord fairly easy. However, what about hitting a perfect arpeggio? The level of subtle details your fingers need to memorize can be pretty amazing if you think about it. This type of muscle memory also has an impact on the way your brain works. 

What Does It All Come Down To? 

It comes down to a simple fact - playing guitar is beneficial in many ways, including developing your intellectual capabilities. The younger you start, more profound will the effects be. It's no longer a matter of speculation, but rather hard science. 

This guest post is from Raphael Taylor of MusicSkanner.com.

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