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Children’s Brain Development and Music Training

  Interesting study that supports music instruction for children - that it appears to accelerate brain development in young children, particularly in the areas necessary for general auditory processes such as language, speech and social interaction. Unfortunately music instruction is being cut in many schools, either for budget reasons or because it is perceived as unnecessary. From Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience:

Researchers find that children's brains develop faster with music training

Music instruction appears to accelerate brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills, according to initial results of a five-year study by USC neuroscientists.

These initial study results, published in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, provide evidence of the benefits of music education at a time when many schools around the nation have either eliminated or reduced music and arts programs. The study shows music instruction speeds up the maturation of the auditory pathway in the brain and increases its efficiency.

For this longitudinal study, the neuroscientists are monitoring brain development and behavior in a group of 37 children from underprivileged neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Thirteen of the children, at 6 or 7 years old, began to receive music instruction through the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program at HOLA....The children learn to play instruments, such as the violin, in ensembles and groups, and they practice up to seven hours a week.

The scientists are comparing the budding musicians with peers in two other groups: 11 children in a community soccer program, and 13 children who are not involved in any specific after-school programs. The neuroscientists are using several tools to monitor changes in them as they grow: MRI to monitor changes through brain scans, EEG to track electrical activity in the brains, behavioral testing and other such techniques.

Within two years of the study, the neuroscientists found the auditory systems of children in the music program were maturing faster than in the other children. The fine-tuning of their auditory pathway could accelerate their development of language and reading, as well as other abilities—a potential effect which the scientists are continuing to study. The enhanced maturity reflects an increase in neuroplasticity, a physiological change in the brain in response to its environment—in this case, exposure to music and music instruction.

"The auditory system is stimulated by music," Habibi said. "This system is also engaged in general sound processing that is fundamental to language development, reading skills and successful communication." The auditory system connects our ear to our brain to process sound. When we hear something, our ears receive it in the form of vibrations that it converts into a neural signal. That signal is then sent to the brainstem, up to the thalamus at the center of the brain, and outward to its final destination, the primary auditory cortex, located near the sides of the brain.

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