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How Music Affects the Developing Brain


WRITTEN BY: Neurosurgery
Monday, December 15th, 2014

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Prolific composer. Profoundly shaped classical music. But, he did not make your child smarter or enhance brain development. In 1993, a study claimed that simply listening to Mozart’s music could enhance a child’s smarts. The theory sparked a wave of musical books, CDs, and classes for children and toddlers, and people bought into it. However, modern research has found there is no evidence that listening to any type of music can enhance a child’s learning ability. That’s the same for unborn babies as well. So putting headphones on your belly won’t do anything but give you some muffled music for your internal organs to rock out to. But, music does have a way of enhancing a child’s brain, and yes, it involves more than just listening.

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that learning to play an instrument before age seven changes how the brain develops in several ways. First, there is an enhanced ability to interpret and integrate sensory information, such as hearing, touch, and sight. For example, musical training heightens the brain’s ability to pick out specific sounds, like a voice in a crowd or a specific melody or harmony. This ability also helps the brain become more adept at learning new languages.

RELATED: Top Mental Exercises for the Brain

Helping to Develop Brain Architecture

The study also points out that children who learn to play music at a young age have stronger connections across the corpus callosum, a thick band of nerve fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain. This strong connection developed at early age changes white-matter connectivity. Why is this important though? Mainly because white matter actively affects how the brain learns and functions. It also acts as communication hub between different regions of the brain. High functioning white matter means faster connections. And faster connections results in increases in cognitive abilities. Also, the white matter change may serve as scaffolding that can help maintain a well-connected brain infrastructure into adulthood. This acts as an added defense against memory loss and cognitive decline that many older adults experience.

Increased Brain Volume and Connectivity

A study by Brown University showed that learning music helped build grey matter, which is responsible for processing and retrieving information, and new neural connections within the brain, thus increasing brain volume. These new connections can help enhance intellectual and emotional skills, such as reading comprehension, mathematics, spelling, and listening and motor skills. If you’re looking for specifics, a study completed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and the University of California showed that when children were given piano lessons over a six-month period, they performed 34 percent better than other children who were not given piano lessons. Some of the children who didn’t perform as well were given computer lessons instead.

The researchers explained that learning to play music jump starts areas in the brain responsible for spatial-temporal reasoning, or the ability to picture a spatial pattern and understand how items or pieces can fiti nto that space. This ability also increases problem-solving skills and organizational skills. On the other hand, computer lessons did not force children to think ahead or visualize, like they have to do when playing music.

RELATED: Limit Noise to Boost Your Child’s Brain Power

Get Your Child Started

If your child is interested in learning how to play a musical instrument, that’s great news. Most experts agree that two lessons a week for around two hours are enough to get the brain in gear. Plus, just imagine your son or daughter as the lead guitar or drummer for the next super group. Pretty cool, right? If they aren’t interested, don’t panic. There are still other ways to help develop their brain, like video games… believe it or not.

Interested in learning more about the brain? Stay up-to-date on the latest research and findings. Visit the Neurology Services at UPMC website or call 412-692-4920 to schedule an appointment or learn more.

neurosurgery

Neurosurgery

UPMC is ranked among the top hospitals in the nation for neurosurgical care by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, UPMC is one of the few medical centers in the U.S. – and throughout the world – with expertise in the full array of surgical options for brain and spine conditions. Our world-renowned experts are committed to finding the best treatment approach for each patient, maximizing the benefits of surgery while minimizing the risks. Read More