-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
THURSDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) -- If you're going to sign
your child up for music lessons, you will want to do it sooner
rather than later.
Researchers in Canada found music training strengthens
connections between the areas of a child's brain that are
responsible for movement, but this only happens if the child picks
up an instrument before the age of 7.
"Learning to play an instrument requires coordination between hands and with visual or auditory stimuli," study co-author Virginia Penhune, a psychology professor at Concordia University and a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development, said in a university news release.
She explained that beginning music training early in childhood
probably helps boost brain connections that are vital for
improvements later on.
The researchers assessed the performance of 36 adult musicians
who completed a non-musical motor skill task. The participants also
underwent a brain scan.
Although all the musicians had the same number of years of
training, the researchers pointed out half of them began their
training before they were 7. The other half started taking music
lessons when they were older. The researchers also compared both
groups of musicians to people who had little or no formal musical
Although both groups of musicians had two days of practice, the
study revealed that those who began their musical training before
they were 7 had better timing on the motor task. The brain scans
also showed the musicians who started music lessons at a younger
age had enhanced white matter in the corpus callosum, a group of
nerve fibers connecting the left and right motor regions of the
The findings indicate that musical training between the ages of
6 and 8 can result in long-term changes to children's brain
structure and motor skills. The study authors said the earlier the
musicians began their musical training, the stronger the
connections between the areas of their brain responsible for
In contrast, the brain scans of the musicians who began their
music lessons later in life were no different than the scans of
those with little or no musical training. The researchers concluded
music lessons can only boost brain development early in life.
"This study is significant in showing that training is more effective at early ages because certain aspects of brain anatomy are more sensitive to changes at those time points," study co-author Robert Zatorre, a researcher at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University, who is also the co-director of the International Laboratory for Brain Music and Sound Research, said in the news release.
The study authors pointed out that because the musicians were
given a non-musical motor task, the benefits of early musical
training can apply to more than playing an instrument. Although
early musical training can boost brain development, they added it
doesn't necessarily make people better musicians.
"Musical performance is about skill, but it is also about communication, enthusiasm, style and many other things that we don't measure," Perhune said. "So, while starting early may help you express your genius, it probably won't make you a genius."
The study was published recently in the
Journal of Neuroscience.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about
childhood brain development.
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