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The More Musical Training Children Have, The Better Their Learning Will Be

August 12, 2014
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Rayshell Clapper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Many studies show the benefits of music, including creative inspiration, stress relief, and intellectual abilities. Studies on the latter have mostly focused on students in affluent areas, but a new study, led by Dr. Nina Kraus, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University, shows definitive evidence that music education – learning to play a musical instrument or to sing – just might help disadvantaged children strengthen their reading and language skills.

Dr. Kraus presented her research on multiple studies of hundreds of kids who participated in the Harmony Project, which are mostly musical training programs, in Chicago and Los Angeles at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention.

The Harmony Project has programs in urban and disadvantaged locations including Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Tulsa, Kansas City, and Ventura. These programs provide instruments to participants who take part in musical instruction and ensemble rehearsal for five or more hours per week.

Dr. Kraus’ research found that “musical training appears to enhance the way children’s nervous systems process sounds in a busy environment, such as a classroom or a playground. This improved neural function may lead to enhanced memory and attention spans.” All of this will likely lead to increased focus in the classroom and improved communication skills. Enhanced memory and attention spans, increased focus, and improved neural functions are all good news for disadvantaged kids. These skills can translate into better futures, higher educations, and better learning all around.

In the major study through the Harmony Project, first and second grade children were the focus with half participating in musical training while the other half received no musical training during the first year of the study. The latter actually had diminished reading scores while those who had musical training had reading scores that remained unchanged at the one-year mark.

The really incredible and hopeful findings came after two years in a different study. This study focused on musical training with adolescents. As the APA explains, “neural responses to sound in adolescent music students were faster and more precise than in students in another type of enrichment class.”

Participants were studied in two groups: one with participants taking part in band or choir and the other with participants enrolling in Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC) that had no musical component, although it did focus on character education, achievement, wellness, leadership and diversity.

Those who participated in band or choir showed the improved neural responses while those who participated in JROTC had neural responses that remained the same.

According to BBC News, “After two years of musical training, the results showed the musical group was faster and more accurate at distinguishing one sound from another, particularly when there was background noise, compared to a group that did not participate in any musical activity.”

This study proves that musical programs cannot be used as a quick fix; rather, the long-term commitment is necessary to reap the neural benefits.

In fact, another study Dr. Kraus ran showed just how important the long-term is in musical training because the brain continues to experience the benefits.

This study focused on college students by asking them how many years, if any, they studied music training. Those with five years of musical training in primary or high school had improved neural responses to sound over those who had no musical training. So the brain continues to reap the benefits long after the musical training.

So, beyond the increased neural benefits, these findings show that a non-pharmacologic intervention can help disadvantaged kids improve their learning.

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Source: Rayshell Clapper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online



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