Music in the NEWS!

Music lessons may foster brain development and improve memory in young children.

Researchers have found that not only did the brains of young, musically trained children respond differently to hearing music, but musical training also appeared to improve the children’s memories over the course of a year.

“That the children studying music for a year improved in musical listening skills more than children not studying music is perhaps not very surprising,” says researcher Laurel Trainor, in a news release. “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 nonmusical abilities such as literacy, verbal memory, visuospatial processing, mathematics, and IQ than did the children not taking lessons,” says Trainor, a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and behavior at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario.

If further study confirms these results, it could give parents good reason to put up with the hongs and screeches of aspiring musicians.

In the study, published in Brain, researchers compared brain responses to music and other brain development measures in 12 children between the ages of 4 and 6 over the course of a year.

At the start of the study, half the children were enrolled in Suzuki music school; the other half did not take music lessons outside of school. Researchers found developmental differences between the two groups during the year-long study.

As expected, children taking music lessons showed greater improvements in melody, harmony, and rhythm processing than those not studying music. In addition, musically trained children showed a greater brain response to hearing a violin tone in an area of the brain involved in attention and sound discrimination.

But researchers also found that children taking music lessons showed greater improvement on a nonmusical general memory test in which they had to listen to a series of numbers, remember them, and then repeat them back.

“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,” says Trainor.

SOURCES: Fujioka, T. Brain, Sept. 20, 2006; Vol. 129: pp. 2593-2608. News release, Oxford University Press.