Music Training May Boost Brain Function

Brain response to stimulus was faster in students taking music class instead of fitness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many parents cringe when their children first take up the trombone and practice in the house. But band class could be boosting their kids' brain function.

According to research presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference, music education can affect brain development.

Researchers found that music education, compared to other electives, sped up brain activity and, in one case, resulted in better reading and writing scores.

"Learn the options for music education at your child's school."

The research was conducted by Nina Kraus, PhD, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory in Evanston, IL, and colleagues.

Dr. Kraus and team focused the study on the effects of musical training for kids on brain activity — particularly reading and language skills.

Working with schools in Los Angeles in one study, the authors started with first- and second-graders, half of whom were taking musical training.

After one year, the kids without music class had lower reading scores than the musical group.

After two years, the authors found that neural responses to sound, as measured by brain activity, were “faster and more precise” in music students than peers in other classes.

In another study, Dr. Kraus and team worked with 43 low-income Chicago public school students with an average age of 14.6. Fourteen participants dropped out during the study period.

The study group was split into two groups — one studying music, one studying fitness.

Prior to starting coursework, the researchers ran a test to establish a baseline level of brain function in the students. The test measured the timing of brain response to a stimulus — in this case, music and physical activity.

After a year of training, the study authors found that the time it took for a student's brain to respond to a stimulus had decreased in the music group.

The fitness group did not experience that same decrease in stimulus response time.

"Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn," Dr. Kraus said in a press release. "While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap."

The research was presented Aug. 8 at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd annual convention in Washington, DC.

The Mathers Foundation, the Knowles Hearing Center and Northwestern University funded the study.

Review Date: 
August 8, 2014
Last Updated:
June 17, 2015