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article imagePlaying a musical instrument could boost brain function in kids

By Sravanth Verma     Sep 12, 2014 in Science
New research from a team at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University has studied the benefits of learning to play musical instruments, and concluded that the process can result in significant positive impacts on a child's brain.
The research team, led by Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist at the university, worked with a community music program called Harmony Project that was run by Margaret Martin, a Presidential Citizens Medal-winner. The project offers music classes to over 1000 children from low-income backgrounds in Los Angeles.
Two groups of children were studied, one that received five hours and more of musical instruction per week, and another control group which received no musical instruction. The children were aged between six and nine years old and averaged eight years old.
The team attached special electrodes to the scalps of children to measure how their brains would respond to various sounds. The team noticed that children who had played an instrument for two years could make a clearer distinction between particular sounds, as compared to children who weren't learning any instrument. The team tested the kids' ability to distinguish between sounds of the words "bill" and "pill". The longer the children had been training, the greater this ability. Interestingly, this enhanced ability only began to be visible over longer periods of musical study, and was not present when children had undergone only a year of musical instruction.
The Harmony Project has already resulted in children showing better performance at schools. This new study could explain why to some extent. Studies have already shown how listening to classical music reduces stress, but this study could add a fillip to those asking for more music education programs in schools.
"We're really able to measure what the nervous system has become, based on the experience that these children have had with sound," said Kraus. "It turns out that playing a musical instrument is important. We don't see these kinds of biological changes in people who are just listening to music, who are not playing an instrument. I like to give the analogy that you're not going to become physically fit just by watching sports," she added. Kraus feels the study has barely scratched the surface.
More about playing music, benefits of music, Northwestern university
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