Music not only soothes the soul, but as it seems, when it comes to kids, musical-training helps kids improve their memory and IQ levels.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr Laurel Trainor, Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University and Director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, and Dr Takako Fujioka, a scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute.
They found that not only do the brains of musically-trained children respond to music in a different way to those of the untrained kids, but that it also improves their memory as well.
As a part of the study, the Canadian-based researchers measured changes in brain responses to sounds in children aged between 4 and 6 over the period of a year.
The research team designed their study to investigate (1) how auditory responses in children matured over the period of a year, (2) whether responses to meaningful sounds, such as musical tones, matured differently than responses to noises, and (3) how musical training affected normal brain development in young children.
They found developmental changes over periods as short as four months. After one year the musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ than those who had not been trained.
Dr Fujioka said that while previous studies have shown that older children given music lessons had greater improvements in IQ scores than children given drama lessons, this is the first study to identify these effects in brain-based measurements in young children.
"Previous work has shown assignment to musical training is associated with improvements in IQ in school-aged children. Our work explores how musical training affects the way in which the brain develops. It is clear that music is good for children's cognitive development and that music should be part of the pre-school and primary school curriculum," Dr Fujioka said.
Dr Trainor said that the changes were likely to be related to the benefits that have been associated with musical training.
"This is the first study to show that brain responses in young, musically trained and untrained children change differently over the course of a year. These changes are likely to be related to the cognitive benefit that is seen with musical training," she said.
Analysis of the music tasks showed greater improvement over the year in melody, harmony and rhythm processing in the children studying music compared to those not studying music. General memory capacity also improved more in the children studying music than in those not studying music.
"That the children studying music for a year improved in musical listening skills more than children not studying music is perhaps not very surprising. On the other hand, it is very interesting that the children taking music lessons improved more over the year on general memory skills that are correlated with non-musical abilities such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ than did the children not taking lessons," Dr Trainor said.
"It suggests that musical training is having an effect on how the brain gets wired for general cognitive functioning related to memory and attention," she added.
The next phase of the study will look at the benefits of musical training in older adults.
The findings are published in the online edition of the journal Brain.