Early music lessons are good for the brain

February 15, 2013

Young children learning to play the drums, or a tiny violin, or the piano might not be making music to their parents’ ears, but they definitely are making their brains grow, says a new study.

Young children learning to play the drums, or a tiny violin, or the piano might not be making music to their parents’ ears, but they definitely are making their brains grow. New research proves that music training in children aged younger than 7 years significantly enhances white matter in their brains that controls sensorimotor abilities.

Investigators seeking to establish how early music training might be related to white-matter organization in the corpus callosum, the area of nerve connections between motor and sensory areas of the brain, tested 36 adult musicians on a nonmusical movement task and then scanned their brains. Half the participants had begun their music education before age 7; the other half had started at a later age. Both groups were identical in numbers of years of training and experience. Both were compared with a control group that had little or no music education.

Brain scans showed that the musicians with early training displayed more white matter in the posterior midbody/isthmus of the corpus callosum than the other groups, and the younger the age when they began their training, the greater the nerve connections. Brain scans showed no significant difference between nonmusician controls and those musicians who began training when older.

In addition, early music training was found to affect other motor skills. The skill test given to all participants was not related to music or playing an instrument, yet those musicians who learned to play before 7 years showed more accurate timing compared with the other groups, even after 2 days of practice.

The researchers say that the findings confirm that brain developments related to music training occur early or not at all, and the years between ages 6 and 8 are when the child’s brain is most sensitive to the music-related boost in maturation of connections between motor and sensory regions.

Parents can be reassured that those disturbing sounds emanating from their 7-year-old’s violin are strengthening the sensorimotor framework on which his or her skills and behavior will grow.