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.

Musical Neurons

Musical Neurons

A recent study at MIT shows that there may be specialized neurons in the brain for processing music. These “musical neurons” are different than similar ones used to distinguish other sounds, like speech and environmental noises.

“Musical Neurons” Discovered in the Brain

“The implications of the findings are profound, suggesting that not only does musical aptitude and understanding have a specific seat within the brain, but that music may have played a crucial role in the evolution of the human nervous system.”

Follow up studies are planned to determine whether the “musical neurons” are acquired over time or present at birth. It has long been understood that music and language develop around the same time in a child’s brain. Many children will sing before they can talk. Further, we know that music has a strong correlation to memory. Even as an adult, I sing the “Alphabet Song” while filing music to remember the order of the letters. It’s much easier for me to sing the ABCs than to recite them. Because of the important links between music and language, early music education is rocket fuel for the developing brain.

This study may be another step to understanding how music is essential for being human.

Perhaps there is something hard-wired in our brains for processing, feeling, and making music. Are these neurons present at birth? Are they more developed in musicians? Does this research prove the academic advantages of brain training through music? Stay tuned!