Being an occasional musician, it’s only normal if I want my four-year-old child to have an inclination in music. Surely, it’s a lovely bonding activity, and there may be a piece of a stage parent hiding inside me at times. But I’m also certain of the physical advantages playing a musical instrument can have on one’s personal growth. New science, it appears, supports this idea. The Washington Post has made a report last year on a latest study from Northwestern University, which discovered that “music training does not only help the children develop their fine motor skills, but also helps behavioral and emotional maturation.”
This may be surprising. For one thing, as you may see the CNN report above, the advantages of learning to play music as a child can remain for decades, even though someone hasn’t picked up an instrument from those early lessons. As Dr. Nina Kraus, the Director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory describes, good musical timing is extremely paralleled with general mental acuity and reading skills. According to the study’s co-author, James Hudziak, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont, early musical lesson was proven to have “accelerated cortical organization in anxiety management, attention skill and emotional control.” These brain changes can go with us us well into old age.
Another Canadian Study which was published in February in the The Journal of Neuroscience, showed that childhood music trainings improve the ability of older adults to hear speech, a skill that starts to weaken in later years. The study discovered “strong” proof that “beginning formal trainings on a musical instrument before the age of 14 and continuous intense lessons for up to ten years appears to develop chief areas in the brain that aids speech recognition.” Even music trainings taken later in life can help recondition the brains of older adults. “The discoveries,” writes Science Daily, “highlights the significance of music teaching in schools and in rehabilitative plans for older adults.”
Music teachers definitely need this type of proof to stop cuts in school music programs, and musically-inclined parents will cheer these discoveries as well. But before the stage parent in you starts enrolling your child in every music training you can find, listen. As Dr. Kraus found in the Northwestern study, pushing kids to show up and join under duress won’t exercise their brains. Real, active engagement is key. “We like to emphasize that ‘making music is vital,’” says Kraus, “because it is only by the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.” While musical lesson may be one specifically enjoyable way to strengthen cognition, it isn’t the only way. But even if they don’t stick with it, the kids who are willing to put in the hours and yes, the longer the better, will experience positive change that lasts a lifetime.