Music lessons have been shown to help children increase their learning and listening skills. A study published at the start of this month demonstrated that especially in populations of children considered to be at-risk, music lessons are an aid to greater language and reading skill development. The study was presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting earlier in the year, before being published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Researchers from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the Northwestern University in Chicago presented a ten-year study in which they discovered that children who were given music lessons scored higher in reading skill tests than children who did not receive music lessons. Nina Klaus, from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University, led the team of researchers who tracked the academic outcomes of children living in low-income families. The research took place in neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Chicago.
The study was done in collaboration with Harmony Project, a charitable organization which provides children residing in gang-reduction zones in Los Angeles with free music lessons. The children who participated were all between the ages of six and nine years old when the study began.
The children were split into two different groups. Group one, the experimental group, received five hours or more worth of musical instruction each week. Group two, the control group, did not receive musical intervention. Typically children from lower-income areas show a decline in reading test scores, however the control group in the study did not demonstrate these difficulties.
The researchers were able to track the brain activity of the children using a powerful neural probe, they saw that after a two-year stint of music lessons, children’s brains were better able to distinguish one sound from another. This was true even when there was a large amount of background noise present. One year of music lessons however was not enough for any changes to be recorded, the music lessons only began to make a significant impact after a longer period of time.
Kraus explained that typically, children from higher-income families and neighborhoods do better in school. Those children who come from lower-income families tend to struggle more with language skills. The researchers found that music lessons can alter a child’s nervous system in a way that improves learning skills. Kraus believes that music lessons may be a way to decrease the academic gap seen between children who come from families with different levels of income.
Kraus says that the research demonstrates that community music programs may help to ‘remodel’ the brains of children in a way which makes it easier for them to learn. This is one of the first times that biological changes as a result of musical intervention have been evaluated. Because the benefits were only seen after two years of musical intervention, Kraus stresses that this cannot be seen as a “quick fix.” Rather, lessons should be an ongoing part of the educational process for children. When incorporated in this manner, music lessons can have a profound and long-term effect on listening and learning skills in children.
By Tabitha Farrar
Original Article on Guardian Liberty Voice
Kristen Rencher. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)