Playing musical intruments in childhood boosts brain in adulthood

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Children who receive music training increase odds of boosting their brain power as adults.
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Playing a musical instrument in early childhood may have benefits that last well into adulthood, as a new study has found that musically trained adults process sound faster than those without such training.

In the study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from Northwestern University reported that playing a musical instrument produces changes in the structure and function of the brain. However, the researchers wanted to know if these changes continued after the music training was discontinued.

Accordingly, the research team tested 44 adults, some of whom had previous musical training and some who had none at all.

Among those who had prior musical training, the average age they started was 9, which is the usual age when schools start teaching music. The researchers tested the brains of those in the music group to see how quickly they responded to rapidly changing sounds.

The study showed that when some people get older, they experience changes in the brain that interfere with hearing, as well as their interpretation of speech.

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However, the researchers point to previous studies that have shown such changes are not an inevitable part of aging, as research on musicians indicates that lifelong musical training can postpone or otherwise prevent these changes from slowing the brain down.

For the study, the 44 adults listen to synthesized speech syllables as the researchers measured activity in the auditory portions of their brain.

As a result, they found that even when participants had not played an instrument for 40 years, those with at least 4 to 14 years of music training in childhood had the quickest response to the sound they heard when listening to synthesized speech syllables.

Indeed, the more years these adults played instruments during childhood, the more quickly their brains responded to the speech sounds.

These findings reveal how music education in childhood could have long-lasting benefits that pay off later in life.

SOURCE: Older Adults Benefit from Music Training Early in Life: Biological Evidence for Long-Term Training-Driven Plasticity; Travis White-Schwoch, Kali Woodruff Carr, Samira Anderson, Dana L. Strait and Nina Kraus; The Journal of Neuroscience, 6 November 2013.

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