The University of Southern California's Brain and Creativity Institute (BCA) has released a five-year study conducted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the Heart of Los Angeles examining the impact of music instruction on children's social, emotional, and cognitive development.
The report, titled "Music Training Accelerates Brain Development in Children," provides evidence of the unambiguous benefits of music education at a time when many schools nationwide have either eliminated or cutback their arts programs. Music education speeds up the development of children's auditory pathway and increases its efficiency.
"We are broadly interested in the impact of music training on cognitive, socio-emotional and brain development of children," said Assal Habibi, the study's author and a senior research associate at the BCI in USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. "These results reflect that children with music training, compared with the two other comparison groups, were more accurate in processing sound."
The study was conducted by having thirteen children between 6 and 7-years-old receive music instruction through the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program. The children learned to play instruments in ensembles and groups, and they practiced up to seven hours every week. Neuroscientists monitored changes occurring in the children's brains as their proficiency in music increased.
Within two years, the neuroscientists discovered that the auditory systems of children engaged with music developed faster than those of children without musical skills. The development of the auditory pathway then allows children to accelerate their development of language and reading.
"The auditory system is stimulated by music," Habibi said. "This system is also engaged in general sound processing that is fundamental to language development, reading skills and successful communication."
The auditory system connects the ear to the brain to process sound. When an individual hears something, his or her ears receive it in the form of vibrations that are converted into a neural signal. Then, that is signal is sent to the auditory cortex near the sides of the brain. Children engaged in music lessons increased the speed by which signals are transmitted to the brain, thus becoming more efficient at processing sound.
At the beginning and end of the study, the children were tasked with an exercise to distinguish tones; they listened to various violin, piano, and signal-frequency tones. The children needed to discriminate tones that were of similar and different melodies. Children who played in the youth orchestra outperformed children who lack musical skills considerably. The results indicate that music education leads to a faster rate of auditory maturation.
Stronger auditory systems allow children to more easily master phonetics, reading, speaking, and spelling – subjects that all children study in grade school that lay the foundation for later academic success. The study affirms the value of music education amidst a climate that seems quick to devalue arts education.
For interested readers, the full release about the report is available online. The co-authors of the study were USC's BCI neuroscientists B. Rael Cahn and co-director of BCA Antonio Damasio and Hanna Damasio.