Interesting new research from the University of Vermont, USA suggests that children who learn a musical instrument may be improving their brains in ways that help them well beyond their music lesson or practice.
Learning music might help children to:
- Improve their attention
- Enhance their working memory
- Develop better organisation and planning skills
- Control their emotions
- Reduce anxiety
The research, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, analysed brain scans of 232 children aged 6 to 18 years, and claims to be the largest investigation of the association between playing a musical instrument and brain development.
The learning and behaviour benefits for the children come from changes in the behaviour regulating areas of their brains due to music practice. Specifically, music practice increases the thickness of the part of the cortex (the outer layer of the brain) that regulates the child’s executive functioning. Executive function includes working memory, attention and organisation & planning.
The research also observed the expected changes in the motor areas of the children’s brains, because playing music involves coordination and control of movement of hands, fingers and other parts of the body.
What can parents do to help children get the benefits found by this reserch?
Do whatever you can to encourage them to learn a musical instrument. It seems any instrument will be fine. There is no evidence that any is better and any other, although the violin and piano seem feature in studies related to music and brain training.
Expose your children as early as possible to music. Even very young children respond to music. Try to get them interested in how music is made by different instruments. Play songs when you are in the car with them, instead of listening to the news!
The researchers concluded, “it’s important to find new and innovative ways to make music training more widely available, beginning in childhood."