How Music Affects Brain Development

How Music Affects Brain Development Collaborator

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who is studying to become a doctor. We have had numerous conversations about how music and frequencies affect our physiology and he has a great interest in discovering more studies and information that supports the scientific approach. He showed me an article that he had found that talked about how music was found to actually increase the white matter in certain areas of our brain.

I decided to look further into this phenomenon and see if I could find the study that produced these results. If it is true that music can help the brain become larger and develop more abilities, that would be a wonderful thing indeed.

My search brought me to a study that was published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013:

What the study discovered was that if a young child, before the age of 7 years could begin to be taught music, there would be an appreciable increase in the white matter of the brain In the Corpus Callosum area. This is “where the auditory cortex is located as well as the temporal lobe that supports the interhemispheric interactions and sensorimotor integration. Thus, early training may induce initial changes in white-matter connectivity that serve as a scaffold on which later training continues to build.”

Putting that in more laymen’s terms; this early music training helps an individual to coordinate between the left and right sides of the brain. The left side being responsible for the more logical functions like mathematics and the right side of the brain being responsible for the more artistic expression functions. The sensorimotor integration has to do with our special orientation and ability to think 3-dimensionally. Even more importantly, this results in a much more well balanced individual that is able to perform and understand concepts in a much wider field of disciplines.

The study found that early trained musicians have an initial advantage in sensorimotor synchronization which seemed to have a correlation to the extra white matter formation in the CC (Corpus Callosum). Comparisons in the study confirmed this initial observation. The study showed “that early musical training has a differential impact on white matter structure and sensorimotor synchronization performance, providing evidence for a sensitive period where experience produces long-lasting changes in the brain and behavior. Consistent with previous findings, ET (early trainers) outperformed LT (late trainers) on a sensorimotor synchronization task.

The “sensitive period” that is being referred to is the optimal age at which a task or skill is best learned. For instance, in learning a language, a child who grows up with multiple languages has a much easier time learning more than one language than an adult who attempts the task at a more advanced age. There are times when our brains are more “plastic” and we can develop neuropathways more easily. This early training time for music “which develops the posterior midbody containing the fibers that connect the sensorimotor cortices of the two hemispheres is between the ages of 6 and 8 years.”

“Playing a musical instrument requires the coordinated action of the two hands and interhemispheric interactions mediated by the CC have been shown to play a prominent role in bimanual coordination. The size of the CC has been shown to be related to bimanual task performance in children and adults. Further, the size of the primary motor cortex connected through this region has been shown to be related to the age of onset of musical training. Early musical training, by requiring practice of bimanual skills, may place greater demands on interhemispheric interactions between sensorimotor regions, thus promoting the development of enhanced connections.”

The study concluded by stating, “In conclusion, our findings provide compelling evidence that early musical training can produce long-lasting changes in behavior and the brain. We propose that early training interacts with preexisting individual differences in brain organization and ongoing maturational processes to produce differential changes in white matter structure. Early musical experience may promote plasticity in motor and auditory connectivity that serves as a scaffold upon which ongoing training can build.”

So why am I excited about this study – what does it mean for the average person? As I have studied the various ways that music affects our bodies and enriches our lives, I have never ceased to be amazed at how integral music is to our very existence. If we can get our children involved in music at an early age, 6-7 years old, it will give them a head start for better life.

I have kids come up to me after a concert and begin to ask me questions and want to try to play my harp. I am always eager to let them play and introduce them to the wonders of music, especially the harp. Now I know why I am so eager to get them introduced. If I can spark their desire to begin to learn music, it will have long-lasting wonderful benefits to offer them the rest of their lives.