Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Findings

music-lessons-kid

(Photo: Tiplyashina Evgeniya/Shutterstock)

Music Lessons Enhance Brain Function in Disadvantaged Kids

• September 02, 2014 • 2:00 PM

(Photo: Tiplyashina Evgeniya/Shutterstock)

Children from poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles who took regular music lessons for two years were able to distinguish similar speech sounds faster than their peers.

There is much evidence that poverty, and the chronic stress it creates, hinders the development of young brains. However, new research finds one important aspect of neural functioning is gradually strengthened when underprivileged children engage in a challenging but fun activity: Music lessons.

A newly published study of six- to nine-year-olds living in gang-infested areas of Los Angeles finds those who spent two years participating in a free music-instruction program processed the sound of certain syllables more rapidly than their peers with less musical training.

“This research demonstrates that community music programs can literally remodel children’s brains in a way that improves sound processing, which could lead to better learning and language skills.”

“This research demonstrates that community music programs can literally remodel children’s brains in a way that improves sound processing, which could lead to better learning and language skills,” reports lead author Nina Kraus of Northwestern University. Her study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Kraus and her colleagues followed 44 children for three years. All were students in the Los Angeles public schools; all lived in designated gang-reduction zones.

At the beginning of the first year, 18 students enrolled in the music-training program conducted by the Harmony Project. After six months or so of introductory musicianship classes (one-hour sessions twice weekly in which they learned fundamental skills), they moved on to group instrumental instruction.

Another 26 students had these lessons deferred for one year, starting their instruction at the beginning of year two.

At the end of each school year, all participants took part in neurophysiological testing, in which researchers determined how quickly their brains processed the distinction between the sounds “ba” and “ga.”

“Children with two years of training showed a marked improvement in the neural differentiation of the syllables,” Kraus and her colleagues report. “Across both groups, more music training was associated with larger enhancements in neural function.”

“This suggests that music training transferred to non-music listening settings to influence automatic auditory processing,” they add. “These improvements were in processes that are important for everyday communication.”

“Previous investigations have revealed that, as groups, children who are better readers, and children who hear better in noise, show stronger neural distinctions of these same syllables. These findings therefore provide support for the efficacy of community and co-curricular music program to engender improvements in nervous system function.”

Importantly, the researchers found this particular benefit of music education doesn’t kick in until after two full years of training. A few lessons won’t do it.

The good news, however, is that you don’t have to enjoy the privileges of wealth, or even middle-class status, for music training to make a difference.

It all adds to the mass of evidence—see here, here, and here—that music training impacts young brains in ways that go far beyond aesthetic appreciation. As Kraus and her colleagues put it: “Our findings support efforts to reintegrate music into public schooling as an important complement to science, technology, math, and reading instruction.”

Is anybody listening?

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.