Clare Broderick Investigates Music’s Effect on the Brain

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Clare Broderick investigates “The Brain on Music.” Photo credit: Mary Berg/Crown

Mary Berg, Editor-in-Chief

On Monday, March 14, Clare Broderick presented her final Leadership Scholar’s project entitled “The Brain on Music.” Her semester-long research project focused on the effect of music on the brain and whether or not students’ participation in music affects their academic performance. Her driving question was, “Does music improve academic performance, and do Regina students benefit from their involvement in music?”

Broderick became interested in this driving question as a result of her participation in music throughout grade school and high school.

She says, “I have always been told ‘music makes me smarter’ by many of my music teachers over the years. I never really believed it, so I decided to research it myself for my final Leadership Scholars Project.”

This project required an 11 page research paper accompanied by a 20 minute presentation on her findings. In order to accomplish this significant feat, Broderick had to incorporate several different sources in order to make a conclusion.

She states, “I researched scientific studies that investigated the brain’s reaction to music. These reactions include the brain’s chemical releases, stimulations, and parts used when engaging with music. Then, I found studies that showed whether or not music classes affect academic performance, and surveyed Regina girls, asking if they benefitted from their music involvement.”

Compiling and researching these studies and surveys was difficult, but Broderick made some notable discoveries. For instance, the widely-recognized ‘Mozart Effect,’ which theorizes that listening to classical music during childhood improves brain function, is actually false. Broderick found that several studies proved this ‘effect’ wrong. In reality, she stated, one must actively engage in music in order to enhance brain function. This includes playing a musical instrument or singing in a formal manner, like in a choir.

In order to confirm this research, Broderick contacted an expert in the field of neuroscience, Dr. Nina Kraus, the director of Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory. She told Broderick that “making music matters, because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.” This means that a person must make music herself in order to affect her brain chemistry, not just listen to it.

Broderick also found that participation in music over a long period of time actually changes the way the brain works and enhances academic performance. Participating in a music class for one semester, she said, improves brain function, but its effects are not long-lasting. However, continually engaging with music over a period of several years actually makes some permanent changes in the brain’s operation and improves academic performance.

Broderick’s survey of Regina girls helped corroborate these findings. She found that the longer Regina girls have participated in music, the higher their GPA. For instance, students at Regina who have played an instrument or sang in a choir for over ten years had an an average GPA of 5.8.

As a result of her research over the semester, Broderick concluded that music has a positive effect on academic performance.

She says, “In the end, I concluded that music does improve academic performance and Regina girls are helped by their involvement in music.”

In addition to the academic aspect of this project, Broderick was required to use the leadership skills she has developed throughout her time at Regina. She has been a formal leader as a member of the Class Council Leadership Board and a Kairos leader, but this project was different.

Broderick states, “Music and neuroscience are both something I am very interested in. By researching these topics, I am taking initiative and pursuing my interests. It is a very independent project which requires me to do most of the work on my own. This shows my leadership abilities because I must discipline myself and stay on schedule all on my own.”

Overall, Broderick made significant discoveries while researching “The Brain on Music,” which was made  possible through the Leadership Scholars Program.