Music to my Ears

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 at Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I am sure every Mom has heard that exposing their infants/young children to classical music or learning to play an instrument make for a smarter, brighter child in general. But what effect does music really play on brain development and how does that translate (if at all) to other forms of learning? Before getting into the nitty gritty of the article, lets go over some key concepts. First and foremost is the wonderful way that our adult brains change in response to our environment and stimuli, called neuroplasticity. Until recently, scientists thought our brains did not have the potential to change, it was hard-wired. But some pretty landmark studies on monkeys and rats came out starting in the 1980’s and showed that, in fact, our brains DO change. Simply put: our environment, what we learn, new stimuli, all contribute to re-wiring and forming new connections in our brains, aka neuroplasticity. The brain of infants and toddlers is, in my opinion, even more remarkable. We are born with all of our neurons, yet, the synapses (part of the neuron that communicates with other neurons) are over produced. During the first formative years of life kids experience new things such as language, reading, etc. Their experiences help prune back these synapses. This is the main reason learning a variety of languages is easier at younger ages…kids have an over production of synapses just waiting for experiences, whereas adults have less and while our connections can be re-wired, it is a bit more challenging for us.

In March of this year an article came out in The Journal of Neuroscience about the effect of music on brain development in kids. The article is aptly titled “Musical Training Shapes Structural Brain Development”. The researchers looked at 2 groups of children: the “instrumental” group (15 kids) had weekly keyboard lessons for 15 months and a “control” group (16 kids) that only received 40 minutes of music class a week for 15 months. All kids were approximately 6 years old and were matched for gender, age and socioeconomic status. At the beginning and at the 15 month mark all kids underwent behavioral tests and MRI scans. The behavioral tests were meant to measure 1) fine motor skills of their fingers and 2) “music listening and discrimination skills” (Hyde et al., 2009). Their overall findings are that 15 months of music training led to regional specific structural changes in two important areas: motor and auditory areas. “Children who played and practiced a musical instrument showed greater improvements in motor ability (as measured by finger dexterity in both left and right hands) and in auditory melodic and rhythmic discrimination skills” (Hyde et al., 2009). However, improvements in visual-spatial or verbal domains were not seen. What this means is that learning a musical instrument did not transfer into improvements in brain areas not related to the learning of the instrument. The authors of this study state “these findings of structural plasticity in the young brain suggest that long-term intervention programs can facilitate neuroplasticity in children” (Hyde et al., 2009).

There were a couple questions that the either the authors mentioned or I thought of while reading the article. First, what if these “transfer” changes that were not seen would occur if the musical training would have been for a longer period? What if the instrument training included more sessions or longer sessions each week? Would you see similar changes in motor and auditory areas if the length of training was decreased but each training session was longer? What if multiple instruments were part of the learning?

I think that anecdotal and actual evidence exists to support the benefit of learning a musical instrument and how it can transfer to other forms of learning.

Any thoughts?

Hyde KL, Lerch J, Norton A, Forgeard M, Winner E, Evans AC, Schlaug G. Musical training shapes structural brain development. J Neurosci. 2009 Mar 11;29(10):3019-25

1 Responses to Music to my Ears

  1. NeuronMommy Says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.

Post a Comment

Neuron Mommy | Powered by Blogger | Entries (RSS) | Comments (RSS) | Designed by Design Mommy | XML Coded By |