Playing a Musical Instrument Boosts Brain Power

It was once thought that listening to classical music boosted a child’s brain development and made kids smarter. New research, however, says that it’s playing music, rather than listening to it, that helps kids’ brains grow.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois found that children who learned to play a musical instrument improved the areas of their brains that dealt with language, speech, memory, attention span and vocal emotion. Actively participating in music, rather than just listening to it, helps key areas of the brain to become stronger. The effect was much stronger than simply listening to music, a popular parenting trick used in the 1990s.

“Even kids who’ve had 20 minutes a day of music lessons — which isn’t a whole lot — will, after a year, demonstrate changes in how their nervous system responds to sound, be it music or speech,” says lead author Nina Kraus, professor of neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern.

Kraus reviewed and researched auditory science studies done around the world to help lead to her conclusion. Music ability seems to help in many different areas. One example is that learning to detect various pitches in music seemed to be related to ease in learning a new language. Children that play music also seem to be more aware of speech changes, which helps them with phonologic spelling and vocabulary.

The new look at how music helps children cold be especially useful to children with learning disabilities and those affected by noisy classroom environments.

“Musicians are always pulling out melody and harmony lines, and the sound of their own instrument,” says Kraus, also director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory. “You can imagine how that would impact a child’s ability to learn in a noisy classroom.”

Musicologist Mary Ingraham hopes this new research will be used to help students who do not do well in the modern educational system. However, Kraus says the benefits of music are actually useful at any age. – Summer, staff writer

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Summer is a mom of three, living life in the slow lane along historic Route 66. She writes, homeschools, gardens, and is still trying to learn how to knit.

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