The Science of Music Education
Musical Training for Children Under 7 Leads to Increased Brain Development
Neuroscientists are discovering multiple ways that musical training improves the function and connectivity of different brain regions. Musical training increases brain volume and strengthens
communication between brain areas. Playing an instrument changes how the brain interprets and integrates a wide range of sensory information, especially for those who start before age 7.
Playing a musical instrument can cause fundamental changes in a young person’s brain, shaping both how it functions and how it is physically structured, researchers say. “Listening to and making music is not only an auditory experience, but it is a multisensory and motor experience. Making music over a long period of time can change brain function and brain structure,” Schlaug said.
Three Brain Benefits of Musical Training:
- Musicians have an enhanced ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch, and sight.
- The age at which musical training begins affects brain anatomy as an adult; beginning training before the age of seven has the greatest impact.
- Brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, leading to less reliance on working memory and more extensive connectivity within the brain.
Enhancement of Specific Abilities Resulting from Music Training with Young Children
Research has also demonstrated that music training in children results in long-term enhancement of visual-spatial, verbal, and mathematical performance.
These are the initial results from studies examining the brain and cognitive effects of instrumental music training on young children in a longitudinal study and a cross-sectional comparison in older children.
Music Can Help At-risk Children with Language Development
Music training has been found to be related to better language and mathematical skills, higher IQ and overall greater academic achievement.
These findings suggest that music training during childhood, even for a period as brief as two years, can accelerate brain development and sound processing. We believe that this may benefit language acquisition in children given that developing language and reading skills engage similar brain areas. This can particularly benefit at-risk children in low socioeconomic status neighborhoods who experience more difficulties with language development.
Playing an Instrument Improves Neural Processing, Not Just Listening to Music
Science has shown that when children learn to play music, their brains begin to hear and process sounds that they couldn’t otherwise hear. This helps them develop “neurophysiological distinction” between certain sounds that can aid in literacy, which can translate into improved academic results for kids.
The study showed that students who played instruments in class had more improved neural processing than the children who attended the music appreciation group. “We like to say that ‘making music matters,’” said Kraus. “Because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.”
“It turns out that playing a musical instrument is important,” Kraus said, differentiating her group’s findings from the now- debunked myth that just listening to certain types of music improves intelligence, the so-called “Mozart effect.” “We don’t see these kinds of biological changes in people who are just listening to music, who are not playing an instrument,” said Kraus. “I like to give the analogy that you’re not going to become physically fit just by watching sports.” It’s important to engage with the sound in order to reap the benefits and see changes in the central nervous system.
Musicians Have Bigger Brains
Plastic changes also occur in musicians brains compared to non-musicians. Gaser and Schlaug (2003) compared professional musicians (who practice at least 1hour per day) to amateur musicians and non-musicians. They found that gray matter (cortex) volume was highest in professional musicians, intermediate in amateur musicians, and lowest in non-musicians in several brain areas involved in playing music: motor regions, anterior superior parietal areas and inferior temporal areas.
From the article, Brain Plasticity: How Learning Changes Your Brain by Dr. Pascale Michelon Feb 26, 2008
Music Training Results in Increased Wellbeing in Children
Several studies have shown that music education at an early age stimulates the child’s brain in a number of ways that helps to improve verbal skills, communication skills and visual skills.
A study that looked at 4 to 6 year olds who were subject to one month of musical training that included training in rhythm, pitch, melody, voice and basic musical concepts resulted in enhanced ability to understand words and explain their meaning. 
A study using subjects that were 8 to 11 year olds found that those who were involved in extra-curricular music classes were developing higher verbal IQ’s and their visual ability was greater than those who were not receiving the training. 
Even children as young as one year old who participated in interactive music lessons with their parents had a greater ability to communicate, smiled more frequently and were showing greater signs of sophisticated brain responses to music. 
From article: 7 Ways Music Benefits Your Heart, Brain & Health
March 13, 2014 by Joe Martino.
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