Studies Show that Musical Rhythm Correlates to Intelligence.

A couple weeks ago, I heard about a mobile app that tests your ability to hold a steady beat by having you tap the screen along to a metronomic bell sound for 30 seconds. It measures how accurately you tap along, and when you're done it takes your average accuracy and categorizes your score. The top category is called "Elite," and it requires your taps to be within 20 milliseconds of the bell. The app is called the Neurotiming Project (download it here), and it's pretty fun. Being the (overly) confident musician that I am, I figured I could easily rank myself as Elite on my first try.

Well, much to my dismay, it took me a couple tries to get there. But once I did, this was the screen that popped up:

Now, I've done a fair share of studying up on the topic of music advocacy, and I have seen plenty of data about how playing music has significant positive effects on personal development. But those studies usually focus on the similarities between music and spoken language, the positive effects music has on work ethic and determination, and the heightened development of physical coordination in musicians.

However, I was pretty skeptical when these Neurotiming Project people tried to tell me that my ability to tap a screen in time with a bell "correlates to intelligence." I couldn't tell if they were just trying to butter me up so that I'd brag to other people about their app, or if they actually had scientific proof that mastery of steady beat truly relates to a person's intelligence. So I decided to do some of my own research on the topic...

Here's what I found.

  1. One study had 86 students take a reading test. Half of them then participated in a four-week rhythmic timing program (where they worked on their ability to hold a steady beat), while the other half did not. Finally, all 86 students were then given another reading test. The final test scores of the students who participated in the rhythmic training were significantly more improved than those who didn't participate! Kinda weird...
  2. In another study, preschool students who were better able to synchronize with the steady beat of a conga drum showed a greater capacity for linguistic abilities, such as quickly naming objects, manipulating sounds, and remembering words that were spoken to them. So, better rhythmic timing leads to better auditory skills in young students. Hmm...
  3. A different study involved young adults first taking a comprehensive intelligence test (involving a whole bunch of subjects, including mathematics, language, logic, and more). The same people then were tested for rhythmic timing. And, wouldn't you know, they concluded that timing in the brain was significantly related to several intelligence factors, including speed, capacity, and memory. Maybe there's some truth to this bizarre brain timing thing...
  4. And yet another study concluded that children who scored higher on a phonetics test were better able to perceive and understand complex rhythms than children with lower scores. Guess the drummer in the band might be a little smarter than we give him credit for...

So, it seems that the Neurotiming Project people may be on to something after all! There is substantial evidence suggesting that brain timing and intelligence factors are directly related. I was actually really impressed with the Research section of their website. The theory behind this phenomenal correlation is that timing in the brain has a strong influence on our ability to maintain focus, ignore distractions, respond to and appropriately handle information about what is happening in real-time, and do this all without lapses of attention. Hooray for having good rhythm!

The crazy thing is that these studies about rhythmic timing only scratch the surface of all the profound developmental benefits of being involved in music performance. The National Association for Music Education has a fantastic article titled, "20 Important Benefits of Music in Our Schools," which highlights several more of the reasons to involve your student in music education. Just a few of the advantages of music listed in this article include:

  • Mastery of memorization,
  • Determination to create a quality product,
  • Emotional development,
  • Better SAT scores,
  • And development in creative thinking.

Clearly, there are countless reasons to be involved in music education. If your student is already involved in playing music, you play a crucial role in helping them love it! In another post, I discuss seven ways to encourage your student to engage in the music they play (read the article here). And, if your student isn't already involved in music, find out what instrument they are interested in and sign them up for music lessons and ensembles!

- John Gotsis, Owner and Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy