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The Unparalleled Value of Musical Intelligence

Photo by Denise Jans

How often have you heard stories of Asian parents and their unwavering mindset of pressuring their children to learn an instrument before they can even recite the alphabet? Haifa Husin is no exception to this predicament, having garnered the musical ability to master an astonishing number of 7 instruments before the age of fifteen years old. In a recent interview, she elaborates on the countless benefits she attained when learning new instruments, which were not exclusively restricted to just musical ability.

Despite a hectic schedule of maintaining her musical ability while juggling copious assignments, she still continues to allocate time dedicated to honing her musical abilities. She elaborates that practising instruments on a daily is interconnected to other parts of her life. For her, long hours of music practice has aided her in enhanced memory and body coordination. For example, Haifa is a person with ADHD. Her hand-eye coordination was never particularly great. However, by learning how to play seven instruments, it has instilled the value of discipline in her while significantly improving her coordination. It is also helping her in other aspects of her life, such as playing sports and even driving.

Photo by Haifa Husin

Haifa shares that learning new instruments is a way to fully utilise creative expression as a form of healthy stress relief and also a coping mechanism. She recounts a time when she had her high school finals. She was overwhelmed at the thought of studying. So, she ended up learning how to play one of her favourite songs which helped her de-stress while simultaneously helping her with revision. In the end, she ended up scoring very good marks on her final exam. To add to this, she says that mastering an instrument aided in raising her confidence and building self-esteem because it challenges her to remain calm when performing in front of others.

Music is a universal language; it connects the world and integrates different cultural perspectives together without the usage of verbal communication. Haifa elaborates on the vast new experiences she has gained and how she has educated herself on the fascinating cultural differences by learning the Djembe and Gamelan. She mentions that when you learn an obscure instrument, it has a tendency to lead you into studying the culture which the instrument originates from. Because of this, she is grateful that she learned how to play the Djembe because she managed to learn about West African culture. Additionally, when she learned how to play the drums, it helped her learn a lot about the culture and history surrounding the genre of rock music.

Lastly, another benefit of learning an instrument is the effect of continuous practice on cognitive functions. Haifa Husin agrees that she feels her auditory senses, cognitive ability and kinesthetic memory have dramatically improved with every new instrument learned. These claims can be justified through research on the relationship between musical ability and various areas of intelligence. According to a recent case study in 2011, the relationship between having learned an instrument and having higher cognitive function was explored in 194 boys aged 8 to 9 through tests on non-verbal intelligence, reading and spelling performance. After eliminating confounding and lurking variables, the results suggest that intelligence was higher for the 53% of boys who play an instrument than those who did not.

According to a research article from Parenting Science, it states that long-term musical training heightens multisensory experiences while engaging cognitive functions and neural networks, resulting in an increase in auditory perception. These claims were backed up through evidence of brain scanning technologies by researching the correlation between the ability to play an instrument and brain volume. For example, the brain of a pianist was found to have an increase in grey matter and enlarged brain volume at the area dominating finger coordination.

With Haifa's story, it is clear to see that there are numerous advantages of mastering an instrument. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it helps enhance a person's memory, heightens cognitive functions and increases tactile awareness. And from Haifa's journey, it has acted as a tool for stress relief, builds self-esteem and creates opportunities to learn new cultures. The action of learning an instrument holds no deleterious aspects. Thus it should be encouraged in our youth due to its copious benefits.

By Andrea Adam Zecubi


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