Lifelong Benefits of Music Study

This post is a huge pat on the back for all of you studio parents who are giving your kids the benefits of a music education. There is always new research being published about the positive effects music education has on brain health. In this post, I'll be sharing two studies that illustrate both the immediate academic advantages of practicing and instrument and the long-term role that music study can play in protecting the brain from effects of aging.

The first study I'll be sharing is a large-scale study performed by Peter Gouzouasis at the University of British Columbia. In his research he compared the academic test scores of high school students who had studied music in elementary school, and continued to study it in high school, with those of their peers who had not. The findings were that across the board, regardless of socioeconomic factors, teens who had studied a musical instrument not only scored higher than their non-musical peers, but were on average 1 year ahead of them in English, math and science. I've discussed on this blog previously how even just listening to music can cause the whole brain to engage in ways that we don't often see with other activities, and actively participating in making music and playing an instrument really enhances that whole-brain activity.
"A student has to learn to read music notation, develop eye-hand-mind coordination, develop keen listening skills, develop team skills for playing in an ensemble, and develop discipline to practice. All those learning experiences, and more, play a role in enhancing the learner's cognitive capacities, executive functions, motivation to learn in school, and self-efficacy." - Martin Guhn, study co-investigator. 
The second study I'll be sharing was done by Nina Kraus at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University and looked at the brains of adults age 18-65 with good hearing. Kraus' work focused on comparing the auditory processing time of those who had studied and continued to play music, and those who were non-musicians (classified in this research as 3 years or less). Auditory processing is categorized as the time it takes to hear a sound and process what it is to understand and catalog what it is you've heard. The results of the study were that those who had been lifelong musicians had a much quicker auditory processing time than those who hadn't been. Hearing does play a role in this, but auditory processing is very closely linked to memory and retention.
"Both of those talents tend to decline with age, which is why so many older persons complain of memory lapse and an inability to hear someone in a noisy place. But this work suggests it doesn't decline, if playing a musical instrument is a personal passion over time." - Kraus
The striking thing about both of these studies were that the participants classified as musicians were those that had studied music and then continued playing. Learning music does change the physiology of our brain and the way we think, but to see the real lasting life-long impacts, the trick is to keep making music. One of the reasons I work to engage students in their music, and to help them love playing their instrument is so they'll carry it forward through their lives - not only as a source of enjoyment, but also because I believe it makes our brains healthier. 

To my studio parents, thank you for your commitment to providing a music education for your children, and for helping them build the discipline and commitment to reap not only the joy of being able to make music, but also the lifelong cognitive benefits of musicianship.