47 0 0 0 13 6. There’s little doubt that learning to play a musical instrument is great for developing brains. Science has shown that when children learn to play music, their brains begin to hear and process sounds that they couldn’t otherwise hear. Many parents probably read the above sentence and started mentally The development of children’s musical abilities-ing child music classes in their local area.
A new study from Northwestern University revealed that in order to fully reap the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can’t just sit there and let the sound of music wash over them. They have to be actively engaged in the music and participate in the class. Additionally, the study showed that students who played instruments in class had more improved neural processing than the children who attended the music appreciation group. Because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.
Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain. To find these results, Kraus’s team went straight to the source, hooking up strategically placed electrode wires on the students’ heads to capture the brain’s responses. Kraus’s team at Northwestern has teamed up with The Harmony Project, a community music program serving low-income children in Los Angeles, after Harmony’s founder approached Kraus to provide scientific evidence behind the program’s success with students. According to The Harmony Project’s website, since 2008, 93 percent of Harmony Project seniors have gone on to college, despite a dropout rate of 50 percent or more in their neighborhoods.
It’s a pretty impressive achievement and the Northwestern team designed a study to explore those striking numbers. As a follow up, the team decided to test whether the level of engagement in that music training actually matters. Researchers found that after two years, children who not only regularly attended music classes, but also actively participated in the class, showed larger improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers. As to how to keep children interested in playing instruments, that’s up to the parents. Find the kind of music they love, good teachers, an instrument they’ll like. Making music should be something that children enjoy and will want to keep doing for many years! For exclusive parenting content, check out our TIME for Family subscription.