Effects of music training on the child’s brain and cognitive development

Schlaugh, G., Norton, A., Overy, K., & Winner, E. (2005). Effects of music training on the child’s brain and cognitive development. New York Academy of Sciences, 1060, 219–230.

Abstract:

Researchers provide preliminary results of a longitudinal study comparing 50 students taking music lessons and 25 students not taking music lessons to investigate if there are any differences in brain structure, function and/or cognitive skills in children who are beginning to study a musical instrument compared to the students who are not taking music lessons. They also provide findings from a cross-sectional study in which they compare students with an average of four years of training to students not taking music lessons. Results of the longitudinal study are preliminary because researchers only tested half of the students. Results revealed that after one year of music training, students had improved fine motor skills and musical skills using cognitive and behavioral tests. Brain imagining data also supported the results, with students taking music lessons having greater gray matter than students not taking the lessons. The cross-sectional study showed that students with an average of four years of training performed significantly better on tests of vocabulary, musical skills, and motor skills than their non-lesson counterparts.

Key Findings:

Results reveal that after one year of music training, students taking music lessons showed improved fine motor skills and musical skills compared to students not taking lessons. Brain imagining data supported the findings, with student taking music lesson having greater gray matter than students not taking music lessons.

Students with an average of four years of training performed significantly better in vocabulary tests, musical skills, and motor skills than students not taking music lessons.

Significance of the Findings:

Findings indicate that students can benefit from music training, including improved fine motor skills and musical skills. Further, students with several years of music training performed better on vocabulary tests, musical skills, and motor skills. Educators and resource specialists/therapists may wish to include music to help students develop fine motor skills, and receive other benefits associated with music training.

Methodology:

This study administered a battery of tests to 50 students taking music lessons and 25 comparison students not taking music lessons as a baseline measure and to ensure there were no significant differences between the groups. The following assessments were administered: (1) Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-III), to assess the vocabulary of children under six years old; (2) Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-III), to assess the vocabulary of children six years and older; (3) Auditory Analysis Test, to measure phonemic awareness; (4) Gordon’s Primary Measures of Music Audiation (PMMA), to measure musical skill/aptitude; and (5) Index finger tapping test and a motor sequencing task using four fingers, to assess motor skills Statistical analyses used are not described. Only descriptive statistics are noted.

Limitations of the Research:

The study findings are only preliminary, as only half of the study participants had completed the non-baseline assessments. The study comparing students with an average of four years of music training to a comparison group of students with no music training is correlational in nature, so other differences between the groups beyond music training may account for the findings. The study does not list the statistical analyses used to test if the results are statistically significant.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What are the effects of training intensity and level of musical proficiency on brain structure, function and cognitive skills? Are the results the same after more students are tested?