Recent studies at various universities have shown learning to play an instrument accelerates the growth and development of children’s brains. The four main changes are: development in the hearing center, strengthening the bridge between the two brain hemispheres, an increase in new connections between nerve cells in the brain’s learning center, and stimulation of the areas of the brain responsible for spatial reasoning.
The hearing center rapidly develops in children who play musical instruments in order to learn to distinguish between small changes in pitch and rhythm. A University of Southern California study used EEG, which tracks electrical signals in the brain, to determine that children who played musical instruments for 2 years had much more stimulation in the hearing region. This correlated with their ability to tell the differences between melodies much more frequently than students who did not play musical instruments. The advanced abilities to distinguish between tones and rhythm patterns have been shown to be beneficial in Language Arts, Speech, and Foreign Language learning.
The corpus callosum is a thick bundle of nerves that connect the two hemispheres of the brain. Music awareness, imagination, creativity, and intuition are controlled by the left side of the brain. Logic, math, science, language, and reasoning are controlled by the right side of the brain. A University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study showed that children who played musical instruments developed stronger connections between the left and right sides of the brain via the corpus callosum, than those children who did not play instruments. The stronger nerve fiber bridge has been shown to be responsible for increased learning, better memory, and better cognitive (thinking) skills.
Brown University conducted a study which showed that learning music helped build grey matter in the brain. Grey matter retrieves information, processes it, and is responsible for creating new connections between the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. The many new networks formed between these neurons also increases the volume of the brain. All of these changes improve the following skills: math, spelling, reading comprehension, listening, and the coordination of motor skills.
The Brown University study also showed more electrical activity in the area of the brain responsible for spatial reasoning. This area is responsible for pattern recognition, discerning how pieces are put together (puzzles, assembling parts, etc.), organizational skills, and the process of problem solving.
Another study conducted jointly between the University of Wisconsin and the University of California demonstrated 34% better academic performance when students were given piano lessons for 6 months, than those who did not receive piano lessons. This shows how significantly the brain changes discussed above can help children.
Since music is also a form of expression, learning to play an instrument can be a fun and natural way to help your child learn faster, and form successful habits and skills. Experts suggest stimulating infants and toddlers with different types of music, to get them engaged and to enjoy it. There is no set composer or type of music that is more beneficial than another. Let your children seek out what they enjoy. When they are ready to take music lessons, let them choose the instrument to pursue. Experts recommend beginning with 1 hour a week and practice. If your child is serious about playing this instrument, increase to two hours of lessons a week, with more regular practice. This can be part of school band or orchestra, private lessons, or both. As they grow to enjoy it, playing a musical instrument can be both fun, and the key to success.