Are kids who play an instrument or sing smarter than everyone else? Maybe not smarter – but research shows improvements in learning and brain function with musical training. Surprisingly, just a few months makes a difference. Of course, the more years of training, the better, but researchers have measured improvements with only 1 month of musical training.
Scientists found that children with musical training show differences in cognitive abilities. They have better verbal memory, second language pronunciation accuracy, and reading skills. They are also better at planning and executing a series of tasks. These skills help people function in society, and are therefore crucial for children to develop. As adults, they process information from the 5 senses more quickly and accurately, and have better multitasking and cognitive function. Clearly, musicians are set up better than most for career success.
To be sure it was the musical training that made the difference, scientists carried out additional studies. Perhaps children with better verbal memory are predisposed to want musical training. To figure this out, scientists manipulated the children’s experience and compared the results. In one study, scientists compared active participation in musical training to passive listening to music in 1-2 year old children. They showed that active musical training yields larger brain activity responses to the type of music they learned and better speech development.
Older kids also benefit from musical training. These advantages of musical training are clear at least through the teen years. A correlational study showed that teenagers who had musical training in high school had improved auditory processing that helped them improve their language skills. In 8-10 year old children, a year of musical training (as opposed to painting classes) improves speech perception. Their results suggest that musical training, not predispositions to choosing musical training, produce improvements in brain function.
This research has implications for adults and kids alike. First, if you have or know kids, help them access musical training, through both formal lessons and in their free time. Encourage them to try different activities, like choir or band, to find the one they enjoy. If you are a kid, try out singing or playing an instrument in any way you can.
You might be feeling like you missed out on crucial musical training as kid. But, it’s not too late for adults – you can still help slow age-related decreases in brain function with musical training. Scientists showed that musical training changed sound processing. It may improve one’s ability to filter out the noise around you and focus on the conversation at hand, a very useful skill indeed!