A few years of music lessons may be one of the best investments parents can make. Neuroscientist Nina Kraus at Northwestern University has demonstrated how music training enhances lifelong listening and learning skills. However, this is not an overnight achievement.
It appears that one year of training was insufficient to spark changes in the nervous system. It was only after two years of music lessons that the children’s brains adapted a neural process linked to language and reading skills. Larger improvements were seen in children who regularly attended music classes and actively participated.
Broader than brain development
The why for music lessons goes broader than brain development. Along with their instrument play, children develop patience and self-appreciation. They witness the cause and effect of practice. Musical training invites kids to learn about craftsmanship and decipher between what is good and what is mediocre. They reap the rewards of their work by no longer making mistakes. They may revel in their own form of expression.
With their instrument in hand, physical coordination may improve as well as posture, timing and rhythm. Peer interaction during group lessons and ensembles requires the child to adjust their play, creating a sense of teamwork.
Links between musical training and learning skills including language, speech, memory, and attention are substantive. It has been shown that children and adults with musical experience perform better on cognitive tests than people with no musical training. But music training alone won’t make a child smarter. What it will do is allow the child to explore their potential and become curious about the learning process.
A University of Toronto researcher studying cognitive advantages associated with music training suggested that it was the periods of focused attention, memory and concentration during the lessons and practice that explain the increase.
These skills are adaptive. Research from Michigan State University links childhood participation in creative activities to the number of patents filed and businesses started by adults. Musical training was cited as beneficial.
Research on music training is converging, coming from labs all over the world. But it is within classrooms, studios and stages that teacher and student interaction supports the greatest gift music lessons can bring – musicality, the ability to make and appreciate music.