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Music and the Brain: How Important is Music to A Child’s Development?

23 July 2009 3 Comments

Over two decades ago researchers in the US began studying the link between learning ‘to read music and play the piano’, and ability in Math and Science.

This led to a ten year UCLA study comparing results for young students taking music versus students taking computer classes. Students learning to read music and play the piano scored significantly higher on Math and Science assessments.

Researchers then went on to prove that learning to read music and play the piano has other cognitive benefits. Hong Kong university of China discovered that not only does the regimen of learning to read and play music increase the rate of learning new vocabulary, but it results in a permanent increase in the learning rate. If the music learning process stops, the increased capacity is retained. If the challenging music program starts again, the rate of learning increases further.

This makes sense. Consider that reading music requires the student to look at music notation (an abstract symbol set) and decode it. Playing music requires that decoded information to be used to guide ten fingers on the piano keyboard. The brain is operating challenging receptive and productive processes simultaneously, which is good exercise for the cerebral cortex, and it soon causes permanent changes in this important area of the brain.

One recent MIT study determined that the cerebral cortex of a concert pianist is enlarged by 30% on average compared to people that are considered intellectuals, but who did not have instrumental music education. Another CA study found that 75% of Silicon Valley CEO’s had instrumental music education as a child.

There are several less-tangible, but important advantages to learning to read music and play an instrument. In one Chicago High School the dropout rate improved dramatically, two short years after a challenging music program was introduced to all students.

Cognitive specialists agree, people are designed to be musical, and to develop that ability is an important advantage, most significant if this is started at an early age. Musicians acknowledge an important spiritual and motivational side to music.

The combination of these benefits is very interesting when considering music learning as a treatment for various conditions that affect both learning and behaviour. Consider Autism, ADHD, or even brain trauma, stroke or aneurism. For these individuals, learning to read music and play the piano can be a very important source of successes, increasing rates of learning and improving behaviour.

Many of these studies involved large numbers of young children learning to play an instrument and clearly required special conditions. It’s very difficult to implement a challenging, multi-year instrumental music program with a significant number of students because of the cost and space traditionally associated with instrumental programs. Traditional methods are simply too expensive to consider providing this beneficial development to all children at a particular school. As a result, normally 5-10 percent of the school population receives an instrumental music education.

MusIQ Lab allows for important progress in two key areas:

  1. Universal Access
    Schools and Organizations can deliver instrumental programs using the software at a fraction of the cost per student compared to traditional programs, while retaining the instructional objectives. Lesson plans enable the teacher to add value (guidance and materials) to the program with a minimum amount of preparation.
  2. Reliable Results
    Adventus’ MusIQ Lab software programs are effective, and are also very enjoyable. Children love to learn this way. Learning to read music and play an instrument is a long term challenge. Teachers, whether they’re piano specialists or not, are an important part of the learning process. MusIQ Lab software provides special feedback during practice that allows students to continue learning and developing skills, an advantage over traditional practice. Enjoying practice has a big effect on learning outcomes, even in the short term.
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3 Comments »

  • Diane said:

    Can you link your readers to the studies you cite for more information please?

  • JennyMac said:

    Love this!

  • admin said:

    1 Music Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory,” American Psychological Association, Neuropsychology, Vol. 17, No. 3.
    2 Neurological Research, Feb. 1997; Shaw, Rauscher, et al.
    3 Nature, May 23, 1996; Gardiner, Fox Jeffery and Knowles.
    4 Neurological Research, March, 1999.
    5 “Music and Your Child,” American Music Conference publication; Frank R. Wilson, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Neurology – University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco.
    6 National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 First Follow-Up (1990), U.S. Department of Education.
    7 Dr. James Catterall, UCLA, 1997.
    8 1988 International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IAEEA) Test.

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