by Michael Cohen, Director
Center for Brain
At Center for Brain we often recommend that children who are struggling with attention or learning issues be encouraged to learn to play a musical instrument, particularly the keyboard, in addition to engaging in our neurofeedback program. There has been evidence over the years that playing an instrument helps enhance healthy brain development, which is also what neurofeedback does. We have seen how powerful the pairing of the two can be.
Recently we came across a study about music’s impact on academic success that we wanted to share with you. (You can read a CBS article about the program here.)
Enhanced academic success
It indicated that learning to play a musical instrument may do far more for a child than teaching them discipline and music appreciation. It’s very likely to contribute to enhanced academic success and may even minimize the impact of learning disabilities by helping to rewire their brain.
The study involved 160 children from six kindergarten classes, 80 of them from an ESL program, in the New York City school system. Half were randomly assigned to a class during the academic year called Music and the Brain and the other half (control group) took an enriched language arts class. All of the students received two 45-minute classes per week. They also all received a battery of standardized tests at the beginning and at the end of the academic year.
Children engaged in Music and the Brain classes sang songs from many genres, learned rhythms and notes and then practiced on a keyboard. Children who took language arts were exposed to 70 age-appropriate books which were read aloud, discussed, occasionally acted out, and combined with related creative activities such as drawing, making puppets and other crafts.
Significantly higher scores on standardized tests
The children who took part in Music and the Brain classes scored significantly higher on standardized tests in calculation, reading and spelling compared to the control group. Interestingly, these students also did better on language tasks than did their peers who took the enriched language arts program.
One hundred thirty schools in the New York City area and 14 in New Orleans have Music and the Brain programs.
The “necessity” of music
Course creator Lisha Lercari told CBS News about why studying music is “necessary”: “It’s necessary because children don’t have music in their lives. But it’s also necessary because of what it does in other areas of education. We have seen their literacy improve, we’ve seen their language skills in other ways improve. Music sticks. It enhances memory skills. It helps with attention. It helps them focus.”
Children’s brains develop at an astounding rate. The younger the child the more “plastic” (moldable) they are.
When exposed to stimuli a child’s brain can easily “adjust course.” This can work in the child’s favor, such as helping the brain wire itself better for learning, optimism and calm, or against the child, such as becoming anxious, fearful and shut down in the case of a traumatic or negative environment.
Fortunately, the brain remains plastic for life, which is why neurofeedback is able to help people of all ages function better.
Video games or music lessons: You choose
Early starts can result in optimal brain development, which is why a child is never too young to be exposed to music. A musical instrument is a powerful way to do that. It doesn’t cost much more than a video game and is a much healthier way to help grow and mold your child’s brain.