Ask just about anyone if they can play a musical instrument and you will likely get one of two answers: “Yes!” or “No, but I sure wish I could!” Music touches everyone and the ability to actually make it is pretty fantastic. Or so I’m told. I can’t play anything, not even my own voice. But my 9-year-old is well on her way to learning to express herself through music with guitar and voice lessons and, according to research, those lesson may very well open up a whole new world of learning for her.
Northwestern University researchers reviewed data from other studies around the world and determined that musical training impacts other areas of learning and may have particular benefits for kids with learning disorders.
The brain’s ability to adapt to change as the result of a person’s training and experience is called neuroplasticity. And music training, they say, not only enhances neuroplasticity, but also “enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning.”
In other words, music training helps the brain selectively process sensory information, enhancing what is relevant and ignoring what isn’t. And this, they say, has implications for all children, especially those who suffer with certain learning disorders. A child who has difficulty focusing and learning due to an inability to filter out background noises, for example, has a deficiency in the same neural processes that are strengthened through musical training.
What’s more, research has shown that children who are musically trained have better vocabularies and reading abilities than children who are not.
Because music lessons are generally reserved only for children whose families can afford it, most kids never have the opportunity to receive this kind of training. But the study’s authors believe that their findings indicate that musical training is something that could – and should – benefit all children.
“The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development.”
While it is clear that music training can have a positive impact on education, most schools don’t offer it as a required class. My own kid’s school has mandatory recorder lessons in 3rd and 4th grade, but music is offered only as an elective in the upper grades. If I want to to expose her to real musical training, I’ve got to take matters into my own hands. What about you? Does your child’s school include music training as part of the regular curriculum?
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