Musical training shapes structural brain development

Hyde, K. L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A. C., & Schlaug, G. (2009). Musical training shapes structural brain development. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29, 3019 –3025.

Abstract:

This study investigates whether instrumental music training leads to brain and behavioral changes. Students with no previous training were recruited and assigned to one of two groups. The first group, instrumental music, received weekly half-hour private keyboard classes for about 15 months. The second group, the control group, did not receive instrumental music training, but participated in music classes in school for 40 minutes a week. Investigators assess students using a battery of motor and auditory tests and brain imaging. The results demonstrated that after 15 months of instrumental music training, students showed brain changes in areas associated with motor and auditory skills.

Key Findings:

  • Students in the instrumental music group had greater brain and behavioral changes after 15 months than students in the control group.
  • Students receiving instrumental musical training showed improved motor and auditory skills.
  • Changes in motor and auditory skills of students receiving musical training were associated with changes in their brains.

Significance of the Findings:

The study showed that musical training in young children is associated with improved motor and auditory skills. These improvements may be due to physical changes in the brain in regions associated with motor and auditory skills. Findings show that training on a musical instrument may directly lead to changes in the brain, and may have implications for educators and therapists to include instrumental music instruction as a means to improve motor and auditory skills.

Methodology:

Researchers recruited public school students with no previous music training and assigned them to two groups. The first group, the instrumental group was comprised of 15 students who received weekly, half-hour private keyboard classes for about 15 months. The second group, the control group, included 16 students who did not receive instrumental training but participated in music classes in school for 40 minutes a week. A pre-test showed that there were no significant differences between the two groups at the beginning of the study. Following the 15-month instructional period, the researchers administered a post-test to both groups using a battery of motor and auditory tests. They also conducted brain imaging using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The motor and auditory test included a four-finger motor sequencing test, the melodic and rhythmic discrimination test battery, and Rosner and Simon’s auditory analyses test. The researchers used multiple inferential statics such as Chi-square, analyses of variance (ANOVAs), and multiple analyses of covariance (MANCOVAs) to compare test results for the two groups. Changes in the brain were assessed using Jacobian determinants

Limitations of the Research:

The study’s sample size is small, so findings may not be generalizable to larger populations. The researchers do not explain how the students were assigned to the two groups, so it is possible some other factors related to assignment influenced the findings. The researchers also did not indicate for how many weeks the non-instrumental group received the music class, nor did they describe who provided the lessons.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Would similar results occur if students were randomly assigned to conditions? Could the results be replicated with older students or with adults? The students in the instrumentation group received keyboard lessons, would receiving lessons in another instrument produce similar results?