Music education helps improve children’s learning ability

What if a large number of scientific studies found that there was an activity that could improve our cognitive function, help our memory systems work efficiently, help us learn language, help us moderate our emotional states, help us solve complex problems and help our brains be healthier in later life? What if this activity was equally enjoyable for everyone involved?

There is such an activity: musical education.

I’m a music teacher fascinated by research by neuroscientists and psychologists on the impact of learning music on brain development, especially in school-aged children.

A question I am frequently asked is: how can an activity have so many positive impacts on the brain? The list in my opening statement is just the tip of the iceberg.

We learned how music education improves working memory, phonemic awareness, development of complex spatial skills, development of impulse control, auditory development that protects our brain from aging, as well as reading and writing skills. understanding. The list could go on and on.

Learning music is a complete brain workout

What we now know is that learning a musical instrument and basic music education skills – like time tapping, singing in tune and moving to music – are some of the most complex cognitive activities that the brain can undertake. They involve the auditory, motor and visual cortices which communicate at surprisingly fast speed, while the cognitive, reward and sensory networks share information, and the perception, emotion and cognition networks give personal meaning to all the logical information that the brain processes.

After doing something this complex, our brain goes to other tasks like reading, problem solving, and conceptualizing and says, “Well, that’s easy compared to learning music. !”

The list of skills and abilities that learning music develops is still very long, but it has started to be sorted into three main areas: language development, executive skills and social skills development.

To give you an idea of ​​how this happens, here’s a crash course in music and the brain.

How learning music improves brain development

The parts of the brain responsible for learning music and language overlap.

This means that we hear music as a language when we are babies, and we use this understanding to learn to decode the language and speak it.

This is why children who have received musical training tend to acquire language faster, learn to read earlier and develop their comprehension skills earlier. This is the very foundation of all learning in school: the ability to use language.

The act of learning music requires children to use several different parts of their brains at once.

One of the areas that gets great training is the prefrontal cortex, where our executive functions live – the area where we very slowly learn, throughout our school careers, how to manage ourselves.

Learning music requires using this system a bit each time we pick up an instrument and do a musical activity. It is the slow, permanent and efficient development of the most complex part of our brain.

Playing music in a group, whether it’s keeping a beat or playing a symphony, requires subtle, non-verbal social skills. These are the explicit mannerisms and behaviors that we strive to teach our children, whether as parents or teachers. These are the subtle and deeply human social skills that employers look for when interviewing someone.

These serve musically trained children well into adulthood as they develop strong relationships, manage their well-being, and are empathetic and compassionate toward others.

The great myth of musical education

Very often I hear parents say, “My children won’t be concert pianists, so why should they continue to learn music?”

It’s a fair question, but one that’s informed by old thinking and a lack of understanding of new research.

Music is a wonderful art form and one that will enrich your children, no matter their skill level.

Learning music as a profession is not the goal of music education for all children in school.

Learning music provides children with the cognitive foundation for effective learning, which ultimately helps them grow into confident learners who are ready to get the most out of their education.

If that’s not enough, the love of the art form that brings so much joy to so many humans must do more than enough.

Download the Building a School of Music resource kit for teachers, school leaders and parents.

Dr. Anita Collins is an award-winning educator and researcher in music education and brain development. She has interviewed over 100 neuromusic researchers in Canada, the United States, Scandinavia and Europe and is a TEDx speaker and TED-Ed writer.

Reposted July 20, 2022, first published October 10, 2018

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