Music Education Brain Research

Music Education and Brain Research

Music education in the public schools has been under attack for decades.  Although parents and teachers have advocated for more and better music programs, having seen the benefits to students, music programs are often the first programs to be cut when a school is under-funded. Neurologists are now conducting brain research that substantiates what we’ve intuitively always known about the advantages of early music education.

5th grade band concert

5th grade band concert – music education

The Brain and Music Program at USC

Researchers at USC have been conducting interesting experiments that will (hopefully) guide the education system in understanding how important music education is for students.

In October 2016, the USC researchers published a paper

“Neural correlates of accelerated auditory processing in children engaged in music training published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience”
(Volume 21, October 2016, Pages 1–14)

detailing the brain activity of students with music training vs. students who had not received music instruction.  Like other studies, their results were conclusive: studying music changes the brain in significant and important ways.

Their conclusion is that

These findings provide evidence that childhood music training has a measurable impact in the development of auditory processes. Although the findings described here are restricted to auditory skills and to their neural correlates, such enhanced maturation may favor faster and more efficient development of language skills as well, given that some of the neural substrates to these different processes are shared. Our findings demonstrate that music education has an important role to play in childhood development and add to the converging evidence that music training is capable of shaping skills that are ingredients of success in social and academic development. It is of particular importance that we show these effects in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.” (emphasis mine)

I have blogged about similar research in these posts:

Brain Imaging on Musicians

The Musician’s Brain

I’m wondering how much more empirical data we need to convince administrators that music isn’t just a fun “elective.” Music education is vital to the education of all students.

The Musician’s Brain

The Musician’s Brain

Science is confirming the “Mozart Effect” through new advances in brain imaging.

When I was a music student (not so very long ago!) nobody knew much about the effect of music on the brain. When The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell was first published in 1997, its thesis was revolutionary. Music could heal the body and make you smarter! I remember buying the book when it first came out in hardcover and sharing it with anyone who would listen. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Campbell when he gave a lecture at the University of Colorado when I was in graduate school. Although some of the “music as medicine” parts seem a bit voodoo to me now, I still find it an inspiring book. In fact, I still have the copy that he autographed that day in Boulder. He wrote, “For Marlene- Blessings in Sound, Don Campbell.” It is a blessing, a benediction, a prayer that I carry with me now.

musician's brain

The Mozart Effect

The Mozart Effect‘s greatest achievement may be that it touched off decades of research about music’s effect on the human body. Now, with advances in brain imagery and new understandings about how the brain works, it seems like there’s a new study being published every week linking music and mind.

A recent one that I find interesting is “The Musician’s Brain” from the Journal of Neurobiological Sciences (2012.) In a nutshell, researcher Wichian Sittiprapaporn has made three discoveries:

  1. Listening to music engages multiple brain regions.
  2. The brains of musicians are significantly larger than non-musicians.
  3. Musicians hear and respond to music differently than non-musicians.

Because of the plasticity of the brains of young children, this study would indicate that early music education gives clear advantages in language, mathematics, memory, motor skills, and spatial abilities.

There is, of course, much work to be done in the fields of cognitive science and music psychology. Don Campbell set the wheels in motion. Now it’s up to the fancy brain imaging machines to confirm what we’ve known all along.