Level: pre intermediate and above

Time of completion: 20+ min



When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.



artist (noun): a professional singer, musician or songwriter

art music (noun): music written and performed by professional musicians mostly for the upper classes, like classical Indian music and European opera

beat (noun): the regular pulse in music that dancers move to and audiences clap to

classical music (noun): European orchestral and keyboard music that’s written by composers –

country music (noun): a genre of American music with origins in the rural folk music of Europe

folk music (noun): traditional music from a particular region or country

genre (noun): a kind or style of music, movie, TV show, painting, etc.

harmony (noun): the combining of musical notes that sound good when played or sung together

hip hop (also “rap”) (noun): a musical genre in which artists rap over beats and sampled sounds

jazz (noun): a genre in which artists improvise within a rhythmic and harmonic framework

Latin music (noun): a genre of popular music in Latin America and Spain that has complex rhythms

live (adjective): played at a concert in front of an audience

lyrics (noun): the words of a song

melody (noun): a tune, or the notes of a song

pop music (noun): a popular music genre with short, melodic songs that are easy to remember

popular music (noun): music that many people like and buy, like rock music and heavy metal, hip hop and rap, pop songs, etc.

recording (noun): a piece of music that’s recorded in a studio or at a concert

rhythm (noun): a pattern of beats and sounds that musicians play in time to and dancers move to

rock music (noun): rhythmic blues-based music played on guitar, bass, drums, etc.

traditional music (noun): music that developed over a very long time, like traditional African drumming and Chinese folk songs



Watch the video and choose A, B, C, or D for each of the questions. (Answers below.)


  1. What happens when we listen to music?

A Certain areas of the brain start working

B Work for just a second while we are listening

C There is simultaneous activity in many areas of the brain

D Different areas work at intervals to process melody, rhytm, etc


  1. Which areas of our brain are involved when playing a musical instrument?

A Visual, motor and cerebral cortices

B Auditory, motor and visual cortices

C Motor, cerebral and auditory cortices

D Cerebral, motor and fine motor cortices


  1. What’s the left hemisphere involved in?

A Precision skills like Maths and Language

B Fine motor skills

C Creativity

D Dancing and tapping skills


  1. What’s the bridge between the two brain hemispheres called?

A Corpum callum

B Coopco coolism

C Capum cullim

D Corpus callosum


  1. How do musicians improve their memory skills?

A. By  bringing them to life more quickly

B. By assigning multiple tags to their memories

C. By linking them through cognitive analysis

D. By showing them through music


  1. What have scientists found?

A Playing a music instrument enhance brain functions more than other activities

B Musicians and Sports players have the same cognitive abilities

C All artists have enhanced cognitive abilities

D All of the above



It is possible that you may be asked about music, or musical instruments, in any of the speaking sections. Here is an example from the IELTS speaking part two:

Talk about a musical instrument you would like to be able to play.

You should say:

What the instrument looks like

How it sounds

What kind of people enjoy it

And also why you would like to be able to play it.


Sample Answer:

I would really like to be able to play the piano. In the past I have learned how to play the drums and the guitar, although to be honest I’m not very good at either. I suppose I don’t have much musical talent. However, the piano always seemed so amazing to me. It is such a beautiful, classical instrument.

When I see people playing grand pianos on TV I am in awe at their ability. The piano is unlike any other kind of instrument in terms of sound. It really is incredible to hear someone play it well. Its range of sound is impressive, and a talented musician can bring an audience to tears, or instill any other kind of emotion just by hitting the keys in a certain order.

I think that any person could conceivably enjoy listening to the piano. In fact, even if you don’t think that you do, I’m sure you enjoy some music that features the piano. It is so versatile that it is frequently used in all kinds of musical genres.

I would love to be able to play the piano because it would allow me to affect people’s lives positively through music. The power of music is so important that it can change a person’s day just to hear a certain tune as they walk along. To be capable of playing the piano would be an important asset for my life.


1 C     2 C     3A    4 D     5 B    6 A