The evidence for the importance of music training for young people continues to grow, thanks to a new study from Northwestern University. The study contributes to a body of evidence suggesting that music training can improve the skills important for academic achievement. In the study, researchers found that music training can sharpen teenagers’ brain response to sound and can improve hearing and language abilities. The benefits of music training were present even though the students did not begin until high school.
Students from 40 Chicago-area schools participated in the study. The researchers began the study by evaluating a group of incoming freshmen, tracking the students longitudinally for three years. Approximately half of the students enrolled in band class, which consisted of up to three hours per week of instrumental group music instruction at school. The rest of the students enrolled in junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), a program that encourages fitness, for a comparable period of time. The researchers took electrode recordings of the students’ brains at the beginning and the end of the study.
All the students in the study demonstrated improvement in language skills important for reading and writing. However, students who were in the music classes exhibited greater improvement than students in the ROTC program. The results suggest that in-school music training hones language skills, especially in the brain’s sensitivity to sound details.
The study has implications for children raised in poverty. Studies have shown that children in poverty have diminished abilities in sound processing. Music training may offset this deficit.
“While music programs are often the first to be cut when the school budget is tight, these results highlight music’s place in the high school curriculum,” states senior study author Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory. “Although learning to play music does not teach skills that seem directly relevant to most careers, the results suggest that music may engender what educators refer to as ‘learning to learn.’”
This research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
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