Musical training offsets some academic achievement gaps, research says

August 08, 2014

WASHINGTON -- Learning to play a musical instrument or to sing can help disadvantaged children strengthen their reading and language skills, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention.

The findings, which involved hundreds of kids participating in musical training programs in Chicago and Los Angeles public schools, highlight the role learning music can have on the brains of youth in impoverished areas, according to presenter Nina Kraus, PhD, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University.

"Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn," said Kraus. "While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap." Up until now, research on the impact of musical training has been primarily conducted on middle- to upper-income music students participating in private music lessons, she said.

Kraus's lab research has concluded that musical training appears to enhance the way children's nervous systems process sounds in a busy environment, such as a classroom or a playground. This improved neural function may lead to enhanced memory and attention spans which, in turn, allow kids to focus better in the classroom and improve their communication skills, she said.

Many of Kraus's study participants are part of the Harmony Project in Los Angeles, which was founded by fellow presenter Margaret Martin, PhD. In her most recent research, Kraus studied children beginning when they were in first and second grade. Half participated in musical training and the other half were randomly selected from the program's lengthy waiting list and received no musical training during the first year of the study. Children who had no musical training had diminished reading scores while Harmony Project participants' reading scores remained unchanged over the same time span.

Kraus's lab also found that, after two years, neural responses to sound in adolescent music students were faster and more precise than in students in another type of enrichment class. The researchers tested the auditory abilities in adolescents from lower economic backgrounds at three public high schools in Chicago. Over two years, half of the students participated in either band or choir during each school day while the other half were enrolled in Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps classes, which teaches character education, achievement, wellness, leadership and diversity. All participants had comparable reading ability and IQs at the start of the study. The researchers recorded the children's brain waves as they listened to a repeated syllable against soft background sound, which made it harder for the brain to process. The researchers repeated measures after one year and again at the two-year mark. They found music students' neural responses had strengthened while the JROTC students' responses had remained the same. Interestingly, the differences in the music students' brain waves in response to sounds as described above occurred after two years but not at one year, which showed that these programs cannot be used as quick fixes, Kraus said. This is the strongest evidence to date that public school music education in lower-income students can lead to better sound processing in the brain when compared to other types of enrichment education, she added.

Even after the lessons stop, the brain still reaps benefits, according to studies on the long-term benefits of music lessons. In one study, Kraus's team surveyed college students and asked them how many years they had music training. As they found with the elementary school students, college students who had more than five years of musical training in elementary school or high school had improved neural responses to sound when compared to college students who had had no musical training.

The Harmony Project provides instruments for the students who participate five or more hours a week in musical instruction and ensemble rehearsals. The project is year-round and tuition-free based on income, said Martin. Many of the programs build full-time bands in neighborhoods where the students live and the students agree to commit to the program from elementary school through high school, she said.

"We're spending millions of dollars on drugs to help kids focus and here we have a non-pharmacologic intervention that thousands of disadvantaged kids devote themselves to in their non-school hours -- that works," Martin said. "Learning to make music appears to remodel our kids' brains in ways that facilitates and improves their ability to learn."

The Harmony Project has launched programs in other urban school districts, including Miami, New Orleans, Tulsa, Kansas City, Missouri and Ventura, California.
-end-
Session 2147: "Biological, Behavioral and Academic Impact of Musical Training in At-Risk Children," Symposium, Friday, Aug. 8, 10 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. EDT, Room 147B, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., NW, Washington, D.C.

Presentations are available from the APA Public Affairs Office.

Contact

Nina Kraus
nkraus@northwestern.edu
Phone (847) 491-3181 (office) or (847) 602-6052 (cell)

Margaret Martin
margaret@harmony-project.org
Phone (323) 462-4311 (office) or (310) 499-8178 (cell)

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 130,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

American Psychological Association

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.