Children’s brains shaped by music training

Two years of enrichment program better than one

MUSIC TO MY EARS  After two years of musical instruction, children’s brains responded differently to spoken sounds. 

Kraus laboratory

Musical training tunes the developing brain, scientists report in the Sept. 3 Journal of Neuroscience. After two years in a music enrichment program, children in Los Angeles had more sophisticated brain responses to spoken syllables than kids who had only a year of training.

Researchers led by neuroscientist Nina Kraus of Northwestern University studied 44 children enrolled with the Harmony Project, an organization that brings music training to kids in low-income communities. The children began music lessons when they were on average 8 years old. After two years of lessons, but not one, kids’ brains showed distinct responses to the rapidly spoken sounds “ba” and “ga.” 

Electrodes placed on the kids’ scalps revealed millisecond-scale differences in brain activity in response to the syllables, suggesting that the more musically trained brains were better at distinguishing between the sounds. This neural distinction has been linked to real-life skills such as reading and the ability to pick out speech from a noisy din, says Kraus.

She and her colleagues hope to expand their research and bring musical training to more children. “We’ve opened the window a crack, but I’m hoping it can be thrown wide open,” she says. 

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