The Band Geek and the Jock: Music and Sports Have More in Common Than You Think

What do musicians and athletes have in common? A better ability in processing spatial information, according to a study at the University of Regensburg Institute of Sport Science in Germany. Miller-McCune reports that the study took 120 participants: 40 musicians, 40 athletes, and 40 “education” students who didn’t play an instrument or sport. The participants were then given two tests. One was a mental rotation test in which participants were shown a three-dimensional figure and were asked which image showed the same figure in a different position.

Researchers found that musicians and athletes scored higher in the test than the education students (in fact, male athletes had the highest score overall). The same researchers also published a study in 2010 that concluded that physical activity improves the ability to mentally rotate objects.

Meanwhile, Eastman School of Music professor James VanDemark is testing to see if boxing helps musicians. Twenty students currently participate in one-hour classes each week with professional trainer Dom Arioli, the Wall Street Journal reports (our own pianist alum Thomas Steigerwald was featured in the article!). James told the Wall Street Journal that boxing is also based on rhythm, particularly punching combinations and breathing patterns (boxers even punch the speed bag in triplets).

Photo by Brett Carlsen, WSJ

Students told the Wall Street Journal that they have improved their posture and their cardiovascular fitness, allowing them to produce bigger and better sounds. Last year, one graduate double bass student found that he could tackle the huge instrument successfully after learning some boxing techniques.

What does all this prove? Music and athletics seem to be intertwined – they can both increase mental spatial processing abilities and may even help each other. If Eastman students are reaping the benefits of physical activity, perhaps athletes can also gain the benefits – mental and spiritual – of making music!

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