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Playing a musical instrument can cause fundamental changes in a child’s brain and could improve its functioning far into adulthood, according to latest research in the field.
Three new studies have found that learning to play music can enhance a young person’s ability to process information. In addition, music training can affect children’s brains if they begin prior to the age of seven, and it can enhance connectivity between regions of the brain associated with creativity.
“Music might provide an alternative access into a broken or dysfunctional system within the brain,” says Gottfried Schlaug, director, Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory, Harvard Medical School. He adds, “Music has the ability to go through alternative channels and connect different sections of the brain.” Head researcher at one of the studies, Yunxin Wang of Beijing Normal University, says, “Early musical training does more good for kids than just making it easier for them to enjoy music. It changes the brain and these changes could lead to cognitive advances.”
In that study, researchers took brain scans of 48 adults aged between 19 and 21, who had had at least a year of musical training as children. They found that brain regions related to hearing and self-awareness were larger in those who had begun their musical training before the age of seven.
In another study, Swedish researchers performed MRI scans of 39 pianists who were asked to play a 12-key piano keyboard while their scans took place. Piano players who had experience in jazz improvisation showed more connectivity between three major regions of the brain’s frontal lobe, said lead author Ana Pinho of Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute.