Parents often encourage their kids to take up an instrument in the hopes that the after-school activity will amplify in-school performance. Several studies have looked at the link between music training and cognitive skills in kids, but the results haven't been super definite in the past.
The latest research may change some minds, though (and increase enrolment in band camps), as it shows music training really can boost a child’s brain power.
A recently published five-year study conducted by neuroscientists at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California examined the impact of music instruction on kids’ social, emotional and cognitive development.
The results, along with initial results published last year, suggest as little as two years of music training can boost a child’s brain power in areas responsible for decision-making, giving them the ability to focus attention and inhibit impulses (a combo that comes in handy in the classroom).
According to USC neuroscientists, music instruction changes both the white matter (which carries signals) and the grey matter (which processes information) in a child’s brain. (So why not start early?)
“There has been a long suspicion that music practice has a beneficial effect on human behavior. But this study proves convincingly that the effect is real,” says Antonio Damasio, University Professor and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute.
Indeed, researchers found that children who received music instruction had more thickness and volume in certain areas of the brain compared to peers who didn’t take music lessons.
“We have documented longitudinal changes in the brains of the children receiving music instruction that are distinct from the typical brain changes that children that age would develop,” explains Assal Habibi, the lead author of the study. “Our findings suggest that musical training is a powerful intervention that could help children mature emotionally and intellectually.”
The work is important not just for parents who are thinking about piano lessons, but also for policy makers because it comes at a time when funding for public school music programs are being slashed or, in some cases, already non-existent.
“Together these results demonstrate that community music programs can offset some of the negative consequences that low socioeconomic status can have on child development,” says Habibi.
The science shows music lessons speed up maturity in areas of the brain responsible for sound processing, language and speech development and reading skills. So while the sound of a child practicing the clarinet may not be music to a parents’ ears, it could be the foundation for a future that sounds a lot better.
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