Monthly Archives: November 2017

Benefits of Music Education

Whether your child is the next Beyonce or more likely to sing her solos in the shower, she is bound to benefit from some form of music education. Research shows that learning the do-re-mis can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.

More Than Just Music
Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.
Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.
“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin says.

Language Development
“When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practiced, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.

This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”

Music Can Change Your Brain

There’s little doubt that learning to play a musical instrument is great for developing brains.
Science has shown that when children learn to play music, their brains begin to hear and process sounds that they couldn’t otherwise hear. This helps them develop “neurophysiological distinction” between certain sounds that can aid in literacy, which can translate into improved academic results for kids.

Many parents probably read the above sentence and started mentally Google-ing child music classes in their local area. But if your kid doesn’t like learning an instrument or doesn’t actively engage in the class–opting to stare at the wall or doodle in a notebook instead of participating–he or she may not be getting all the benefits of those classes anyway.A new study from Northwestern University revealed that in order to fully reap the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can’t just sit there and let the sound of music wash over them. They have to be actively engaged in the music and participate in the class. “Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement — attendance and class participation — predicted the strength of neural processing after music training,” said Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, in an email to TIME. She co-authored the study with Jane Hornickel, Dana L. Strait, Jessica Slater and Elaine Thompson of Northwestern University.

Additionally, the study showed that students who played instruments in class had more improved neural processing than the children who attended the music appreciation group. “We like to say that ‘making music matters,’” said Kraus. “Because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.”Kraus, whose research appeared today in Frontiers in Psychology, continued: “Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain.” Active participation and meaningful engagement translate into children being highly involved in their musical training–these are the kids who had good attendance, who paid close attention in class, “and were the most on-task during their lesson,” said Kraus.

To find these results, Kraus’s team went straight to the source, hooking up strategically placed electrode wires on the students’ heads to capture the brain’s responses.

Kraus’s team at Northwestern has teamed up with The Harmony Project, a community music program serving low-income children in Los Angeles, after Harmony’s founder approached Kraus to provide scientific evidence behind the program’s success with students.

Music as medicine

The beep of ventilators and infusion pumps, the hiss of oxygen, the whir of carts and the murmur of voices as physicians and nurses make rounds — these are the typical noises a premature infant hears spending the first days of life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). While the sounds of such life-saving equipment are tough to mute, a new study suggests that some sounds, such as lullabies, may soothe pre-term babies and their parents, and even improve the infants’ sleeping and eating patterns, while decreasing parents’ stress (Pediatrics, 2013).

Researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine conducted the study, which included 272 premature babies 32 weeks gestation or older in 11 mid-Atlantic NICUs. They examined the effects of three types of music: a lullaby selected and sung by the baby’s parents; an “ocean disc,” a round instrument, invented by the Remo drum company, that mimics the sounds of the womb; and a gato box, a drum-like instrument used to simulate two-tone heartbeat rhythms. The two instruments were played live by certified music therapists, who matched their music to the babies’ breathing and heart rhythms.

The researchers found that the gato box, the Remo ocean disc and singing all slowed a baby’s heart rate, although singing was the most effective. Singing also increased the amount of time babies stayed quietly alert, and sucking behavior improved most with the gato box, while the ocean disc enhanced sleep. The music therapy also lowered the parents’ stress, says Joanne Loewy, the study’s lead author, director of the Armstrong center and co-editor of the journal Music and Medicine.

“There’s just something about music — particularly live music — that excites and activates the body,” says Loewy, whose work is part of a growing movement of music therapists and psychologists who are investigating the use of music in medicine to help patients dealing with pain, depression and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease. “Music very much has a way of enhancing quality of life and can, in addition, promote recovery.”
While music has long been recognized as an effective form of therapy to provide an outlet for emotions, the notion of using song, sound frequencies and rhythm to treat physical ailments is a relatively new domain, says psychologist Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal. A wealth of new studies is touting the benefits of music on mental and physical health. For example, in a meta-analysis of 400 studies, Levitin and his postgraduate research fellow, Mona Lisa Chanda, PhD, found that music improves the body’s immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013).

Music on the Brain

It’s hard to exaggerate the effect music can have on the human brain. A mere snippet of song from the past can trigger memories as vivid as anything Proust experienced from the aroma of his petite madeleine. A tune can induce emotions ranging from unabashed joy to deep sorrow and can drive listeners into states of patriotic fervor or religious frenzy–to say nothing of its legendary ability to soothe the savage beast.

Yet in spite of music’s remarkable influence on the human psyche, scientists have spent little time attempting to understand why it possesses such potency. “We tend to think of music as an art or a cultural attribute,” notes Robert Zatorre, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, “but it is a complex human behavior that is as worthy of scientific study as any other.”

That’s why Zatorre helped organize a conference, “The Biological Foundations of Music,” sponsored last week by the New York Academy of Sciences, at which experts in disciplines ranging from neuroscience and neurology to brain imaging and psychology met to exchange notes about what’s known–and, more important, what remains to be learned–in this small but growing field.

What seems clear is that the ability to experience and react to music is deeply embedded in the biology of the nervous system. While music tends to be processed mostly in the right hemisphere of the brain, no single set of cells is devoted to the task. Different networks of neurons are activated, depending on whether a person is listening to music or playing an instrument, and whether or not the music involves lyrics.

Specific brain disorders can affect the perception of music in very specific ways. Experiments done on epileptics decades ago showed that stimulating certain areas of the temporal lobe on both sides of the brain awakened “musical memories”–vivid re-creations of melodies that the patients had heard years earlier. Lesions in the temporal lobe can result in so-called musicogenic epilepsy, an extremely rare form of the disorder in which seizures are triggered by the sound of music. Autism offers an even greater puzzle. People with this condition are mentally deficient, yet most are proficient musicians; some are “musical savants” possessed of extraordinary talent.

The opposite is true of the less than 1% of the population who suffer from amusia, or true tone deafness. They literally cannot recognize a melody, let alone tell two of them apart, and they are incapable of repeating a song (although they think they are doing it correctly). Even simple, familiar tunes such as Frere Jacques and Happy Birthday are mystifying to amusics, but when the lyrics are spoken rather than sung, amusics are able to recognize the song immediately.