Teaching music during the earliest years produces long-lasting changes in the brain

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Long suspected, but never proven,  research now shows that “Early musical training can produce long-lasting changes in behaviour and on the brain”.

In this study1, 36 highly skilled musicians were tested. The musician group was then split equally between those who had learned music before the age of seven and those who had learned after the age of seven.

The researchers found that despite the fact that the 36 highly skilled musicians had done similar amounts of training and practice, the group who had learned music before the age of seven had more extensive wiring of the corpus callosum. This is the area of the brain which links the two hemispheres together and plays an important role in connecting vital areas of the brain to each other. It is also suggested that the corpus callosum plays a fundamental role in integrating information and helping sort out complex behaviours2.

What this means is that if a child starts to play an instrument before the age of seven, they have more chance of developing those areas of the brain more fully than if they did not learn to play an instrument.

baby-and-xylophone-LRIt’s great to know there is real value learning music at young ages while the brain is still developing. In the words of the researchers: “training before the age of 7 years results in changes (in the brain) that may serve as a scaffold upon which ongoing experience can build”. Playing instruments does not have to wait until your child starts school. Before the age of three years simple instruments such as the triangle, maracas and the rhythm sticks enable your child’s brain to put in place the foundational pathways for later, more complex learning.  You will find lots of ideas and activities for using rhythm and music to help your baby’s developing brain at GymbaROO and  KindyROO and in our free BabyROO video series here. Once the brain has lateralised (the two sides can do independent action), usually at about 3 years of age, then a child can potentially learn more complex instruments such as the violin or piano.

Dr Jane Williams (PhD, BMgt, RN(Paeds)) is the Research and Education General Manager for GymbaROO and KindyROO. Dr Williams is one of Australia’s leading experts on baby and child development. More on Dr Williams here.

1. Steele C. J., Bailey, J. A. Zatorre, R. J. & Penhune, V. B. (2013). Early Musical Training and White-Matter Plasticity in the Corpus Callosum: Evidence for a Sensitive Period. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33(3), pp1282-1290; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3578-12.2013  2. Hinkley, L. B. N. & Marco, E. J. et al. (2012). The Role of Corpus Callosum Development in Functional Connectivity and Cognitive Processing PLOS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039804

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