Can Bad Practice Habits Lower Your IQ?

The Science of Music Education

Can Bad Practice Habits Lower Your IQ?

When I stumbled upon the book, Fundamentals of Piano Practice Chuan C. Chang, it caught my eye because of a statement in the book description:

Genius skills are identified and shown to be teachable; learning piano can raise or lower your IQ. 

Bah, I thought.  Learning piano can’t lower your IQ!  That’s pure sensationalism. But the book beckoned for me to read it and I eventually gave in to my curiosity.  Now I am a believer.

I studied classical harp at the college and semi-professional level.  My life took me in other directions and I gave up playing music altogether for years at a time. As I return to my hobby as an enthusiastic piano student, I reflect on my earlier days of music study.  

I was under obligation to play for numerous recitals and ensembles in college, I didn’t have the time to properly work out learning strategies, nor did I discover any specifics of how to advance from good enough to excellent, other than - practice, practice, practice.

I didn’t become good at sight reading, memorizing or improvising.  I was tied to my sheet music binder and was stuck in a dismal purgatory of mediocrity, neither advanced nor novice.  I developed problems in my wrist and felt lost in a sea of endless struggles to make it through my next engagement.

I had no style of my own.  I had no time, nor the fortitude, to attack new ways of playing and thinking.  Sometimes I would be forced to improvise to fill time at a gig, but it was never very groundbreaking.  Most things I did musically during that phase of my life were to fulfill an obligation rather than artistic expression.

And now that I am no longer an institutional student, but rather a free agent, I am breaking out of that mould.  I want to be great, not good. I want to sharpen my memory, my reading skills, and I want to improvise inspired passages.  I fill my mind with information on learning and take time to enjoy practicing. I am fulfilled. I am focused.  

So returning to the question “Can Bad Practice Habits Lower Your IQ?” I think so.  Bad practice is outlined by frustration, impatience and complacency. Taking shortcuts that produce results quicker, but lower in quality than taking a slow and focused approach.

In the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein describes how experience shapes our IQ.  In days of yore, agrarian villagers lacked the ability to group and sort things for IQ tests because they did not have any life experience outside of working on their small farms.  When these populations were exposed to other facets of society, their ability to perform on IQ tests immediately improved.

I no longer want to settle for complacent practice routines.  I want to push my own comfort levels, try new things, go new places, and carefully craft the strategies I use in my daily practice.  And the difference will reflect beyond my relationship with the piano, sharpening my mind and freeing my spirit.


  1. MTK on January 8, 2020 at 8:31 am

    A lot of food for thought in such a concise article! These ideas go beyond music playing, and can be applied to all the arts, I think. Thanks for writing.

    • Leah Young on January 8, 2020 at 1:06 pm

      Thanks for the positive feedback! I just finished interviewing Chaun Chang and I’m really looking forward to sharing his thoughts in upcoming posts. Cheers