Musical training is shown to boost brain development, according to a 12-year international study which compared the neural progress of 66 musicians and 46 non-musicians.
Auditory functions showed marked differences in participants who were musically trained, even at early stages of their music lessons. They also showed improvements in brain connection strength, as well as improved audio perception and pattern recognition.
The results of the study are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Participants’ brains and behaviours were assessed at 5 points in time between the ages of about 8 and 18 to assess differences in development, and to compare the two groups.
Recently, a meta-analysis on more than 50 years of research showed that students whose mathematics lessons are integrated with music perform better in maths tests.
But few studies have deeply investigated the relationship between musical training and neural development, or how the brain develops with musical training.
A variety of imaging techniques and tests were used to measure the brain development of the participants. These included MRI, magnetoencephalography, and auditory tests.
The authors say: “Musical training had a positive influence on elementary auditory perception (frequency, tone duration) and pattern recognition (rhythm, subjective pitch). The observed interplay between ‘nature’ (stable biological dispositions and natural maturation) and ‘nurture’ (learning-induced plasticity) is integrated into a novel neurodevelopmental model of the human auditory system.”
The researchers note that, apart from the basic auditory abilities such as pitch differentiation and timing, musical instrument playing helps develop multisensory skills, which have positive implications for brain development.
While effects on a neurological level were “moderate,” the team found that behavioural changes between musicians and non-musicians was “relatively large.”