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Music Training May Boost Young Brains

Effects appear strongest when kids start lessons before age 7
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Researchers found that brain regions related to hearing and self-awareness appeared to be larger in people who began taking music lessons before age 7. Specifically, these areas tended to have a thicker cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain.

These findings seem to indicate that musical training can have a huge impact on the developing brain, since brain maturation tends to peak around age 7, said lead researcher Yunxin Wang, of the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning at Beijing Normal University.

The third study found that brain circuitry can be reshaped by musical training.

Swedish researchers performed MRI scans of 39 pianists who were asked to tickle the ivories on a special 12-key piano keyboard while the scans took place.

Pianists who were more experienced in jazz improvisation showed higher connectivity between three major regions of the brain's frontal lobe while they improvised some music, said lead author Ana Pinho of the Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm.

At the same time, they showed less activity in brain regions associated with executive functions such as planning and organizing, which could mean that trained improvisers are able to generate music with little conscious attention or thought, Pinho said.

Because the studies were presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The new findings all seem to indicate that training with a musical instrument can affect the brain in profound ways that could prove useful both in education and in therapy, Harvard's Schlaug said.

"Listening to and making music is not only an auditory experience, but it is a multisensory and motor experience," he said. "Making music over a long period of time can change brain function and brain structure."

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