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Music Lessons May Help Bridge 'Achievement Gap'

Two years of instruction was followed by brain changes in children, study found

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A community music program for disadvantaged children boosted an important part of their brain development and function, according to a new study.

The benefits were seen in the youngsters' ability to distinguish similar speech sounds, a process associated with language and reading skills, the researchers said.

The researchers also found that it took two years of music instruction for this enhancement to occur. One year of music training wasn't enough to trigger changes in the brain, according to the study published Sept. 2 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

"This research demonstrates that community music programs can literally 'remodel' children's brains in a way that improves sound processing, which could lead to better learning and language skills," lead author Nina Kraus, a professor of communication sciences and of neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern University, said in a university news release.

The study included children aged 6 to 9 enrolled in the Harmony Project, which provides free music lessons to disadvantaged children in Los Angeles. While researchers observed a link between music lessons and brain development, the study didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

"These findings are a testament that it's a mistake to think of music education as a quick fix, but that if it's an ongoing part of children's education, making music can have a profound and lifelong impact on listening and learning," said Kraus, director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

The results provide evidence of the benefits of long-term music lessons for children, according to Harmony Project founder Margaret Martin.

"Thanks to this finding, sustained music training is now an evidence-based method for closing the achievement gap between poor kids and their more advantaged peers," she said in the news release.

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