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First Evidence

That Musical Training Affects Brain Development In Young Children Sep. 20, 2006 — Researchers have found the first evidence that young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year compared to children who do not receive musical training.

The findings, published today (20 September 2006) in the online edition of the journal Brain [1], show that not only do the brains of musically-trained children respond to music in a different way to those of the untrained children, but also that the training improves their memory as well. After one year the musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ.

Dr Laurel Trainor, Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University and Director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, said: "This is the first study to show that brain responses in young, musically trained and untrained children change differently over the course of a year. These changes are likely to be related to the cognitive benefit that is seen with musical training." Prof Trainor led the study with Dr Takako Fujioka, a scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute.

MEG (magnetoencephalography)is a non-invasive brain scanning technology that measures the magnetic fields outside the head that are associated with the electrical fields generated when groups of neurons (nerve cells) fire in synchrony. When a sound is heard, the brain processes the information from the ears in a series of stages. MEG provides millisecond-by-millisecond information that tracks these stages of processing; the stages show up as positive or negative deflections (or peaks), called components, in the MEG waveform. Earlier peaks tend to reflect sensory processing and later peaks, perceptual or cognitive processing.Analysis of the music tasks showed greater improvement over the year in melody, harmony and rhythm processing in the children studying music,General memory capacity also improved more in the children studying music than in those not studying music.

Prof Trainor said: "That the children studying music for a year improved in musical listening skills more than children not studying music is perhaps not very surprising. On the other hand, it is very interesting that the children taking music lessons improved more over the year on general memory skills that are correlated with non-musical abilities such as literacy, verbal memory, Visio spatial processing, mathematics and IQ than did the children not taking lessons.

It suggests that musical training is having an effect on how the brain gets wired for general cognitive functioning related to memory and attention."This means that as children matured, the electrical conduction between neurons in their brains worked faster.

Dr Fujioka added: "Previous work has shown assignment to musical training is associated with improvements in IQ in school-aged children. Our work explores how musical training affects the way in which the brain develops. It is clear that music is good for children's cognitive development and that music should be part of the pre-school and primary school curriculum."

The next phase of the study will look at the benefits of musical training in older adults.