Luminary Perspective

March 23, 2006

Music and Intelligence

Is it true that musical ability and (measurable) intelligence are linked? I believe this is correct. Music involves combinations of both similarity-based association and rhythmic association. From these two come the ability to reason more quickly and filter out distractions, which (in human minds) causes the phenomenon we know as intelligence.

A tune without rhythm, or rhythm without a tune, is not music at all. That is to say, you can produce very subtle rhythms or tunes, but if it is absent or completely undetectable, it is impossible to recognise as music.

Musical ability has a lot to do with distinguishing nice sounding notes from bad sounding notes. To do this, a catalogue of nice sounds must be kept in long-term memory for easy access and precise comparison. This is completely unconscious for most musicians, but so is mathematical ability for most mathematicians.

Another distinguishing feature with musicians is the ability to determine tempo easily. This is something that is also completely unconscious, or must be practiced until it becomes so. It has to do with counting time intervals precisely and being able to determine at a given moment exactly how many intervals have passed. The mathematician faces a similar challenge in balancing equations, because he has mastered the art of translating symbols to past, present, and future terms.

Thus I think musicians train in quite similar skills, and possibly identical neurological structures, to those used by master mathematicians, as well as any other endeavour of the mind. There is always a use for “tempo” and “pitch” in learning a new skill. Intelligent people who are not good at music are likely capable of becoming so if they are willing to adapt, and it also makes sense to think that those not gifted with high intelligence will find their mental capacity to expand with musical practice.

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