If You Want to Accelerate Brain Development in Children, Teach Them Music

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What makes music a universal language is its ability to communicate across cultural and linguistic boundaries via emotion, mood, and desire. We infer emotions through a wide variety of neural systems in our brain.

Music has long been recognized as an effective form of therapy for mental health issues. There were over 400 published scientific papers that have emphasized the importance of music, especially “music as a remedy”.

Music has benefits on mental and physical health so that’s why it is included in the treatment of schizophrenics where it helps in their social functioning. It is also efficient in reducing chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.

Music is very important for young children because it changes the infant’s brain in a way that will have benefits for the whole life. According to the initial results of a five-year study by USC, neuroscientists found that early exposure to music improves the area responsible for sound, language development, speech perception, and reading skills.

In 2012, a five-year study was initialized by the Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) at USC, in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) to investigate the relationship between music and the development of emotional, cognitive and social properties.

It showed that musical features speed up the maturation and efficiency of the auditory pathway. The study, published recently in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, provides evidence of the notion of using the song in schools when it was a relatively unfamiliar domain in many schools around the United States and other countries.

Assal Habibi, the study’s lead author and a senior research associate at the BCI in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, claimed that they were especially interested in the impact of the notion of music and its influence on the socio-emotional, brain and cognitive development of children.  The results point out that the children who experienced music were more accurate in processing sound that the two other groups.

In order to analyze brain development and behavior, the neuroscientists monitored a group of 37 children from underprivileged neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Thirteen children, ranging from 6 to 7 years old started experiencing music with the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program at HOLA.

This music training program was inspired by the El Sistema method, the one which Gustavo Dudamel had been in when he was growing up in Venezuela.

Learning to Play

The children were involved in a program of practice seven hours a week where they learned to play instruments in groups. They were divided into several groups, 11 children practiced soccer programs and 13 were not involved in any program in order to monitor the changes that were about to happen as the children grew.

Some of the techniques involved were EEG to follow the electrical activity in the brain, MRI to monitor changes through brain scans, tests of behavior, and many others.

The neuroscientists, within two years of study, noticed that the auditory systems of children in the music program were developing faster than in all the other children. This is a result of neuroplasticity, a physiological change in the brain that reacts to its environment in this case a result of music exposure.

The auditory system reacts when it is stimulated by music, a fundamental notion for language development, excellent communication, and great reading skills.

Neuroscientists are continuing to study the possibility of the development of language and reading on the basis of fine-tuning children’s auditory pathways.

Ear to Brain

Hearing is the result of the collaboration between the ear and the auditory brain. The ears receive the sounds in the form of vibrations and encode them into neural signals. These neural messages are sent to the brainstem via specific nerves and different relay stations analyze and decode the message to produce a percept in the cerebral cortex.

How the child develops with time is measured by EEG, a previously mentioned technique, that tracks electrical signals called “auditory evoked potentials”. The greatest focus of the study was put on the potential called P1 which measures the development of the brain’s auditory pathways by tracking the number of neurons involved called amplitude, and the speed of the signal called latency.

Both of these measures decrease as the children develop with time, meaning that they become more efficient in processing sound.

Before and after the period of study, the children completed a task measuring their abilities to distinguish tone. While EEG recorded their electrical signals, they listened to a piano, violin, and single-frequency tones. They were also asked to identify tone and rhythm in 24 different melodies, pointing out the ones that were different and the ones similar in tone and rhythm.

All the groups could easily identify when the melodies were similar but the ones in the orchestra program were more accurate at detecting tone and rhythm and they had a smaller P1 potential amplitude than the other two groups.

The scientist concluded that there was a significant decrease in P1 measures in the music group after two years of training in contrast to the increased measures in sport.

The Biology of Music

According to Mark Jude Tramo, a neurobiologist at the Harvard University Medical School, there is a biology of music that specializes within the brain for the processing of music, and as well as it is an aesthetic part of life.

The neuroscientists at McGill University by scanning the changes in neural activity found out that the part of the brain activated by music is dependent on whether the music is pleasant or not, so, the more pleasant the music, the more active the the brain.

Scientists from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston claimed that male musicians have larger brains than males who did not experience musical training. This is so because the brain reacts to music as the muscle reacts to exercise.

The power of music affects neural activity no matter where from primitive regions to devolved areas. We can conclude that crucial factors for brain activity are harmony, rhythm, and melody.

Via Yoga Esoteric

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