Music and the Mind: the evidence grows!

Music and The Mind by Jane Christmas--September 20, 2006

Young children who take music lessons show advanced brain development and improved memory over those children who do not take music lessons. This is the first study to show changes in brain responses over the course of a year of musical training.

The findings by researchers at McMaster University's Institute for Music and the Mind and the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest appear in the October issue of Brain, and are being released today in the journal's advance online edition. "While the greater improvement that we found in musical tasks is not surprising after one year of music lessons, greater improvement on a non-musical memory task in children taking music lessons is very interesting as memory performance is correlated with abilities such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ.," says Laurel Trainor, professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University and director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. "Furthermore, our research shows that this occurs in children as young as four years of age." While previous studies have shown that school-aged children given music lessons show greater improvement in IQ scores than children given drama lessons, Trainor's study is the first to identify such effects in brain-based measures in pre-school children.

Trainor, who led the study with Takako Fujioka, a scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute, compared the developmental changes in 12 children aged four to six years over the course of a year: six of the children (five boys, one girl) had just started to attend a Suzuki music school; the other six (four boys, two girls) had no music lessons outside school. The researchers chose children being trained by the Suzuki method for several reasons: it ensured the children were all trained in the same way, were not selected for training according to their initial musical talent, and had similar support from their families. Also, because there was no early training in reading music, the Suzuki method provided the researchers with a good model of how training in auditory, sensory and motor activities induces changes in the cortex of the brain. Trainor says the study's results will be of particular interest to educators and parents who feel that music should be part of the preschool and primary school curriculum.

The study received funding from the International Foundation for Music Research, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and The Sound Technology Promotion Foundation. McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 120,000 in 128 countries.

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