Studies: Music training sharpens the pathways of the mind

27 Nov

Mozart was a child prodigy. Most of us don’t come close to possessing his gifts. The Journal Times reported about the “Mozart effect.”

Mozart Effect
Scientific research has found some basis for the notion that music instruction stimulates general intelligence. About 10 years ago that was called the Mozart effect, the result of some research that reported that listening to a Mozart sonata increased the ability of some college students on a test of mental ability. Popular wisdom twisted that into the notion that listening to music makes you smarter, which is more magic than science. What scientists say at the moment is that music instruction will make you smarter about music, and that for music to help children they need to begin instruction really, really early.

Music consists of rhythms and mathematic like patterns which change a child’s brain and way of thinking. Research which was published in the Journal of Neuropsychology suggests that children who study music will as adults will benefit from music study. The research shows “….that the region of the brain involved in verbal memory is larger in adult musicians than in those who are not musicians.” Mental Ability Affected by Music Study’s%20Health&emc=eta1 Further, Rauscher’s study concludes “the research suggests that music may act as a catalyst for cognitive abilities in other disciplines, and the relationship between music and spatial-temporal reasoning is particularly compelling.” Music Affects a Child’s Cognitive Ability

The question is not whether children should be exposed to and study music. Children should be exposed to a wide range of the arts. The issue is what content is appropriate. A Book Rags Student Essays lays out the issues with hip hop music and its sometimes negative effects on the culture. Negative Effects of Hip Hop The late C. Delores Tucker and Tipper Gore were ridiculed when they pointed out the negative effects of glorifying violence and demeaning women by calling them “bitches and hos.” Lest people think that hip hop music and hip hop culture only affect children of color, think again. NPR had a segment entitled “why white kids love hip hop.” Why White Kids Love Hip Hop The negative life style choices and clothing glorified by many “gangsta” artists are affecting mainstream culture.

There is no one right type of music, good music comes in all genres. There is music that feeds the soul and music that destroys the soul, psyche, and culture. There is a positive hip hop movement. Essensce, a magazine targeted at Black woman and the Berklee College of Music joined forces to produce Positive Hip Hop

Berklee College of Music, in an effort to influence the direction of rap, is joining Essence magazine’s Take Back the Music campaign, meant in part to encourage young artists who offer alternatives to the violent and sex-laden lyrics found in some popular hip-hop music.

Pandora and Youtube has information which helps to promote positive hip hop. Amazon has a positive hip hop guide. Just as parents want to provide a nutritious menu of food, they need to make sure that young minds are properly nourished as well.

Sarah D. Sparks reported in the Education Week article, Music Training Sharpens Brain Pathways, Studies Say:

New research suggests that the complexity involved in practicing and performing music may help students’ cognitive development. Studies released last month at the Society for Neuroscience meeting here find that music training may increase the neural connections in regions of the brain associated with creativity, decisionmaking, and complex memory, and they may improve a student’s ability to process conflicting information from many senses at once. Research also found that starting music education early can be even more helpful….
Learning to Multitask
For example, a team of researchers led by Julie Roy, a postgraduate researcher at the auditory-neuroscience-research library at the University of Montreal in Canada, tested 15 musicians with 10 to 25 years of experience, as well as 15 nonmusicians of the same age, in sensory-processing tasks. The participants were asked to report touch sensations while also hearing sounds, ignoring what they heard, and reporting only what they felt on a finger. Prior research has shown that to be difficult to do; normally, those who feel one touch but hear two sounds will think they have felt two touches.
Longtime musicians, however, who must simultaneously read music, feel their instrument, and respond to the sounds it produces, were more than twice as accurate at distinguishing touch and hearing.
In another study, Yunxin Wang, a researcher at the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning at Beijing Normal University in China, examined the structures of the brains of 48 young adults ages 19 to 21 who had studied music at least one year between the ages of 3 and 15. After controlling for gender and the amount of time they had trained overall, Ms. Yunxin found those who had begun musical training before age 7 had significantly more-developed brain areas associated with language and executive function.
Ana Pinho, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, argued that musical education can be helpful at any age. “Even after stroke and disease, starting musical training can still help you get more from your brain,” she said. “All of these findings show [musical training] can create a lot of plasticity that can produce effectiveness across the brain, in cognition and behavior.”
Ms. Pinho used functional magnetic resonance imaging to record the blood flow in the frontal lobes of 39 pianists while they improvised music on a specially designed keyboard. Musicians with longer experience in improvising music had better and more targeted activity in the regions of the brain associated with creativity and the ability to transfer working memory to long-term memory.
‘Toolbox for Creativity’
While specific parts of the brain can be responsible for a motor task such as strumming a G-string, researchers are finding that a musician interpreting Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air on a G String,”—much less creating such a masterpiece—uses more of a brainwide process…
Mr. Damasio leads an ongoing longitudinal study by USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute on the development of musical skills—and neurological development—of students in the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. For the past year, the Effects of Early Childhood Musical Training on Brain and Cognitive Development project has worked with the youth orchestra, which provides free musical instruments and training to low-income students in the city. Researchers are tracking students for five years, beginning at ages 6 or 7, who have been matched in age, socioeconomic status, and prior cognitive ability….

Here is the press release from the 2013 Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego:

Embargoed until Nov. 11, 5:15 p.m. PST Contacts: Kat Snodgrass, (202) 962-4090
Press Room, Nov. 9-13: (619) 525-6260 Anne Nicholas, (202) 962-4060

Training before age seven has bigger impact on brain anatomy; improvisation can rewire brain
SAN DIEGO — New findings show that extensive musical training affects the structure and function of different brain regions, how those regions communicate during the creation of music, and how the brain interprets and integrates sensory information. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
These insights suggest potential new roles for musical training including fostering plasticity in the brain, an alternative tool in education, and treating a range of learning disabilities.
Today’s new findings show that:
• Long-term high level musical training has a broader impact than previously thought. Researchers found that musicians have an enhanced ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch, and sight (Julie Roy, abstract 550.13, see attached summary).
• The age at which musical training begins affects brain anatomy as an adult; beginning training before the age of seven has the greatest impact (Yunxin Wang, abstract 765.07 see attached summary).
• Brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, leading to less reliance on working memory and more extensive connectivity within the brain (Ana Pinho, MS, abstract 122.13, see attached summary).
Some of the brain changes that occur with musical training reflect the automation of task (much as one would recite a multiplication table) and the acquisition of highly specific sensorimotor and cognitive skills required for various aspects of musical expertise.
“Playing a musical instrument is a multisensory and motor experience that creates emotions and motions — from finger tapping to dancing — and engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain. It has the potential to change brain function and structure when done over a long period of time,” said press conference moderator Gottfried
Schlaug, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an expert on music, neuroimaging and brain plasticity. “As today’s findings show, intense musical training generates new processes within the brain, at different stages of life, and with a range of impacts on creativity, cognition, and learning.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations. Find more information about music, learning, and brain development at

The steps in the learning process are summarized in a booklet authored by Stella Vosniadou. How

Children Learn Among her findings are the following key concepts that are necessary in the learning process:

1. Active involvement – students must pay attention and participate in learning
2. Social participation – children internalize the culture and habits of the communities where they live
3. Meaningful activities – activities should relevant and have some real world application that it understood by the child
4. Relating new information to prior information – the Westport program has designed its curriculum in accord with this finding
5. Being strategic
6. Engaging in self-regulation and being reflective – children should learn how to set goals and plan
7. Restructuring prior knowledge – children have to learn how to solve internal inconsistencies
8. Aiming at understanding rather than memorization – the Westport program is attempting to promote understanding and a firm foundation for proceeding to the next set of principles.

Learning and mastery of a subject is important. But, so is nourishing the “whole child.” The arts are just as important to learning as are the sciences. STEM should become STEAM.


Importance of Arts Education

Why Arts Education is Important

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr.

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