Learning to play a musical instrument or to sing has ripple effects in other areas of academic achievement including language and reading, according to new research in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Seven researchers from Northwestern University led by Nina Kraus studied 44 children ages 6 to 9 for two years. Half of the children participated in musical training while the other half received no musical training.
During the program’s first six months, the music group received two hours a week of instruction on pitch, rhythm, music notation and other basic skills. Instruction was then increased to four hours per week and included lessons in playing the recorder.
At the end of two years, the research team found that the group who had received music instruction showed marked improvement in their ability to detect and differentiate sounds in a noisy environment such as a classroom or playground. Similar results were found with adolescents who participated in either band or choir.
This improved functioning, wrote Kraus, leads to enhanced memory and longer attention spans, which allow children to focus better in class.
In another recent study, the same team of researchers compared the brain-wave activity of teens receiving musical lessons after school with students of similar IQ, reading ability and age who were enrolled in an after-school program that focused on character education, achievement, wellness, leadership and diversity. After two years, the researchers found that the brain waves of the musically trained students had strengthened while the other students’ responses had remained the same.
Even after the music lessons were stopped for several years, benefits to the brain could still be detected, the team found.
The researchers concluded that the wide-scale introduction of musical training to children in high-needs schools “can set them up for better learning in and out of the classroom.”