Music and the Young Brain

by F.

According to Science Daily, researchers have found that

not only do the brains of musically-trained children respond to music in a different way to those of the untrained children, but also that the training improves their memory as well. After one year the musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ.

The Canadian-based researchers reached these conclusions after measuring changes in brain responses to sounds in children aged between four and six. Over the period of a year they took four measurements in two groups of children — those taking Suzuki music lessons and those taking no musical training outside school — and found developmental changes over periods as short as four months. While previous studies have shown that older children given music lessons had greater improvements in IQ scores than children given drama lessons, this is the first study to identify these effects in brain-based measurements in young children.

While this is somewhat interesting, notice that they gave the kids a “memory test” that correlates with general intelligence. Is it surprising that kids who play an instrument have better memories than those who don’t? Not really. In order to play music, you have to remember it, and music could be seen as structured memory practice. There may be other ways of doing the same thing, such as playing Halo or chess or go or bridge. Or just memorizing things that interest you, like all the players on a certain sports team.

In my not-so-humble opinion, the interesting study would start comparing different brain-building regimes (music v. chess; Halo v. bridge; go v. learning a foreign language) and see what the underlying, common elements were in effective regimes. I suspect there are many ways to develop a good, flexible, all purpose brain. Of course, lacking one, I’m no authority.

But, returning to the Science Daily piece, here’s the real shocker: “children studying music for a year improved in musical listening skills more than children not studying music.” NO FUCKING WAY! You mean I’m not getting better at music by just sitting on my ass watching Lost?