The benefits of playing a musical instrument are many, but did you know that if you learned to play an instrument early enough you may have a much larger corpus collosum than non-musicians?
What is this strange thing you ask? No no no, it is not what you are sitting on, that is the gluteus maximus. The corpus collosum(CC) connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It’s basically a bridge, but don’t tell the government or they will put tolls on it. Anyway, the CC appears to be significantly larger in musicians who started studying music before the age of 7:
Using in-vivo magnetic resonance morphometry it was investigated whether the midsagittal area of the corpus callosum (CC) would differ between 30 professional musicians and 30 age-, sex- and handedness-matched controls. Our analyses revealed that the anterior half of the CC was significantly larger in musicians. This difference was due to the larger anterior CC in the subgroup of musicians who had begun musical training before the age of 7. Since anatomic studies have provided evidence for a positive correlation between midsagittal callosal size and the number of fibers crossing through the CC, these data indicate a difference in interhemispheric communication and possibly in hemispheric (a)symmetry of sensorimotor areas. Our results are also compatible with plastic changes of components of the CC during a maturation period within the first decade of human life, similar to those observed in animal studies.
Studies like this are basically studying this really neat property of the brain called neuroplasticity. This basically means the brain can adapt or form new connections in response to learning. The brain adapts to learning how to juggle in a similar manner to how it adapts to learning to play an instrument. But you knew that already.
While brain plasticity is a feature of the brain at any age, young brains are more plastic than older ones. As the study suggested, the musicians with the much larger corpus collosums had been playing an instrument before age 7; learning after this age may not have the same permanent effect on optimizing growth of the corpus collosum.
This suggests a window of opportunity in learning things. The window isn’t completely closed after a certain age, there are after all many amazing musicians who started to learn to play well after age 7 obviously. On the other hand, how many 40 year old world famous virtuoso pianists are out there who have only been playing since the age of 35? Besides me, of course?
At this stage of research, we don’t really know if having a larger CC actually means a person is smarter(children who play an instrument regularly tend to do better in school, but that doesn’t mean that being a musician necessarily makes them smarter). On the other hand, it can’t be a bad thing. And since we are on the subject of the bridge between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, remember that the differences between the right and left hemispheres are mostly a myth. A very stubborn myth too.
Even if you can’t stimulate your corpus collosum to grow bigger after a certain age, keeping your brain active by learning something new is still the best way to keep your brain healthy.