It turns out that musical training can change our brains. Learning a musical instrument can improve cognitive functions such as motor function, auditory processing, emotion and social skills.
Researchers at Mexico City’s Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez found 23 children showed dramatic changes in brain function after 9 months training with percussion instruments.
The musical training made physical changes in the students’ brains. The two hemispheres of the brain communicated better. And the overall functioning of the children’s brains improved. Not only the brain regions related to music.
The results of this study suggest scientists may be able to develop music-based programs to help children with ADHD or autism.
Previous studies found music can help children with these conditions. This latest study reveals why. The physical pathways (axons) between areas of the brain benefited most from musical instruction. These axons function less efficiently in brains of individuals with ADHD and autism.
By fostering musical skills, the axons can be strengthened. The stronger axons help such individuals to socialise, emote and focus.
More and more we are coming to realise the value of arts such as music and dance. I’ve personally seen the benefits latin dancing can have for our brains.
Dancing encourages new brain connections to develop. This improves skills such as spatial awareness, multi-tasking and visual comprehension.
Implications for education
Our understanding that musical training can improve our brains has major implications for education.
Consulting firm, Pricewaterhouse Coopers predicts that 30% of jobs in the UK and 38% in the US will be lost to robots or computers by the 2030s. Our current emphasis on the ‘STEM’ subjects (science, technology, maths and engineering) may sell our students short. A computer will probably be able to function much faster and more effectively than us naturally flawed humans.
Yet, it is these ‘flaws’ which may serve as a strength in the years to come. In this high-tech day and age, it is the human element that will come to have a key role in our lives.
We will need creativity and independent thinking like never before. The ability to think critically, to question, express and emote will most likely become the bread and butter of the future. An arts education based in subjects such as music, English, history provides these skills.
Ancient history & archeology
I’ve experienced this through my own university education in Ancient History and then in my archaeology career. Try to teach a computer to excavate a Roman hill fort and I promise you, it won’t be able to.
Sure, the actual mechanical function of digging may be possible by a machine. But the ability to interpret the artefacts and stratigraphy uncovered in an area and then marry this to a site-wide interpretation is something that only a human can do.
The level of infrastructural development in the UK now means construction companies are crying out for archaeologists. And there just aren’t enough of us. This is especially true of higher, management level positions.
Thanks to my arts-based education, I’ve found an employment niche which will likely serve me well for many years to come. So, in a practical world it seems to make sense to invest in an arts education for children.
Add to this the recent proof that subjects such as music and dance can result in physical improvements in the brain that allow for higher cognitive function and the case seems clear.
In a future full of robots and computers, it seems it is the human heart and mind which may prove crucial.