In the first part of this series, we discussed how listening to music can help to boost brain function.  In the second, we delved deeper, analyzing how learning to play music can actually serve as a workout for your brain. So far, we’ve been speaking strictly about adults.

Within the past few years, scientists have found that real, impactful brain development continues well into a person’s 20’s.  While full mental maturity may not happen until well into adulthood, the rate of information absorption is incomparable to that of a child.  The cliché is that child’s brains are like sponges; it makes perfect sense given the relaxed inhibitory state that children operate in.  So let’s take our idea a step further: what happens when children learn how to play music?

The Mozart Effect

Research in the early 90’s promoted a French researcher to coin the term “the Mozart Effect” in his book, Pourquoi Mozart?  A few years later Don Campbell, a music critic who went on to write 23 books about music, summarized a lot of musical research in his book, The Mozart Effect.  The idea at the time, was simply that listening to Mozart made you smarter, or more specifically if children listened to classical music, it had beneficial effects on brain development.

It’s a cute theory, but researchers believed there had to be more to it.  And they were right. More recently, it’s been found that brain benefits are not limited to classical music alone.  Additionally, learning to play music has even been linked to significant boosts in brain development.  The more updated Mozart Effect supports boosts for children with language, reading, math, and motor skills.

Brain Plasticity

Musical training increases brain function.  OK, we get it.  What makes children different?

Glad you asked!

The reason that early musical training trumps even later-life musical training comes down to building better, stronger connections during early-stage brain development.  Simply, people who had musical training at an early age had greater connectivity in the corpus callosum.

Studies have shown that a little training goes a long way.  As little as four years of lessons have been found to have lifelong benefits. Training that begins before the age of seven has an even greater effect, as it can help to shape the white-matter connectivity during development.

Classroom Improvement

The proof is in the pudding, as they say.  Well, in this case, the proof may be in the report card.  While somewhat difficult to prove, given the inability to conduct a true controlled experiment, research indicates that students’ grades may actually improve once they begin taking music lessons.

Nancy is a mother of four. All of her children have studied music – specifically piano – for a minimum of four years. Nancy noticed a significant difference in each of children after musical training began. Specifically, we will talk about two of Nancy’s children.

Nancy’s oldest child is a female. We will call her Amy. Amy was not a poor student before she began piano lessons, but she was struggling with her language arts – more specifically her reading skills. As soon as Amy began to learn to read music, her classroom reading skills began to improve as well. “It was as if she was able to carry the methods of reading music over to school,” Nancy explained.

Amy is not even the best example among Nancy’s children, though. Her youngest child – we’ll call him Zach – was not the best student. Like Amy, he struggled the most in reading. Zach was a very visual learner, which was hindering his ability to read and process material at the appropriate rate. Rather than viewing words as part of a sentence, Zach was viewing words individually, picturing the item, action, etc. Nancy enrolled Zach in piano lessons when he was in fourth grade.

The change Nancy saw was remarkable. The difference in Zach’s ability to process the words and comprehend them was like night and day. Additionally, Zach began to master predictive/pattern-based reading, based on his studies of sheet music. With the uptick in reading comprehension, Zach saw an increase in his performance as a student overall. Nancy attributes the fact that Zach is on par with his peers in the humanities portion of schooling and in the honors track for math and science largely to his piano lessons.

“It shaped the way they learned things, but it also taught them the value of practice,” Nancy said. “The results of their hard work were so visible on the piano, that it allowed them to carry that work ethic through to their studies.”

While that may still be controversial, what is not is the documented improvement in the following:

Musically trained students typically show:

  • increased brain connectivity
  • small increases in IQ
  • improvement in language development
  • improved test scores
  • increased spatial intelligence

Setting Children Up For Success

The job of any parent is to set their child up for success.  It’s becoming increasingly challenging to count on our school districts to optimize our children’s mental development.

So what are we to do?

Enroll your child in private musical training.  The evidence shows that even a small amount of musical training can enrich a child’s brain for the rest of his or her life.  If a construction worker were building a house, he’d want the best tools for the job to ensure the best possible outcome.  Helping to develop the brains of our children at a young age helps to give them the tools they need to succeed as they grow.