New brain study reveals how music can change the structure of children’s brains, enhancing emotional and intellectual development, boosting decision-making network

Image: New brain study reveals how music can change the structure of children’s brains, enhancing emotional and intellectual development, boosting decision-making network

(Natural News) Two new studies from the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California have revealed that even just two years of music instruction has multiple benefits.

Music training can alter both the structure of the brain’s white matter, which transfers signals through the brain, and gray matter, which has most of the brain’s neurons that are active in processing information. It also improves brain network engagements that optimize decision-making abilities and the capacity to focus attention.

These findings have been talked about in studies that have been recently published in scientific journals, including one in the journal Cerebral Cortex. They are the result of an ongoing longitudinal study that started in 2012, when the institute – which is based at the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences – partnered with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) to analyze the effects of music instruction on children’s emotional, cognitive, and social development.

“Together these results demonstrate that community music programs can offset some of the negative consequences that low socioeconomic status can have on child development,” says study lead author and assistant research professor of psychology Assal Habibi.

The first study had neuroscientists monitoring changes in 20 children who had learned to read and play music through the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program at age six or seven.

The community music training program is very similar in structure to the one that Los Angeles Philharmonic music and artistic director Gustavo Dudamel had joined when he was growing up in Venezuela, where it was known as El Sistema.

In this study, the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles students picked up on the basics of playing instruments, such as the violin, in ensembles and groups, and they practiced for up to seven hours a week. The scientists compared the musicians to other children who were involved in other activities: 19 children in a community sports program, and, as a control group, 21 children who are not involved in any specific after-school programs.

Said regions, which are termed “auditory association areas”, are located just above the ears. The thickness of the cortex – which is the outer surface of the cerebrum where motor areas are located – is a dependable measure of brain maturity.

Children who were trained musically showed variations in the thickness of the auditory areas in the right versus the left hemisphere, a sign that music training affects brain structure. (Related: Music Shown to Facilitate the Development of Neurons in the Brain.)

“There has been a long suspicion that music practice has a beneficial effect on human behavior. But this study proves convincingly that the effect is real,” says Brain and Creativity Institute director and university professor Antonio Damasio.

In the second study that was published in the journal PLOS ONE, the neuroscientists at the Brain and Creativity Institute discovered that when the young musicians were doing a task that required intellect, they showed greater engagement of a brain network that handled executive function and decision-making.

The children who participated in the study were presented with a word whose meaning at times matched its color. The experiment is known in psychology research as the “color-word Stroop task”.

For instance, the word “blue” is shown in a blue font. After a time, however, the researchers mixed things up a little bit, and presented the kids with the word “blue” appearing in a red font. To gauge their impulse control and decision-making abilities, children were asked to disregard the written words and instead identify the color of the word. The children performed the task while undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which measured the differences in brain responses between children who are learning music and children who are not.

“We have documented longitudinal changes in the brains of the children receiving this music instruction that are distinct from the typical brain changes that children that age would develop. Our findings suggest that musical training is a powerful intervention that could help children mature emotionally and intellectually,” Habibi says.

According to, music can help the brains of students in such a way as to provide improved language development, improved test scores, increased brain connectivity, increased spatial intelligence, and a small increase in intelligence quotient (IQ), among others.

In addition, early music lessons can promote brain plasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to change at any age.

For more stories concerning the mental capacities of human beings, and even of other species, visit

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If You Want To Accelerate Brain Development In Children, Teach Them Music

By Joe Battaglia

Guest writer for Wake Up World

Music, the universal language of mood, emotion and desire, connects with us through a wide variety of neural systems.

We now know from controlled treatment/outcome studies that listening to and playing music is a potent treatment for mental health issues. 400 published scientific papers have proven the old adage that “music is medicine.” In fact, research demonstrates that adding music therapy to treatment improves symptoms and social functioning among schizophrenics. Further, music therapy has demonstrated efficacy as an independent treatment for reducing depressionanxiety and chronic pain.

Importantly, music education also appears to accelerate brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills, according to initial results of a five-year study by USC neuroscientists.

The Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) at USC began the five-year study in 2012, in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), to examine the impact of music instruction on children’s social, emotional and cognitive development.

Their initial study results show that music instruction speeds up the maturation of the auditory pathway in the brain and increases its efficiency. The study, published recently in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, provide evidence of the benefits of music education at a time when many schools around the United States and other countries have either reduced or eliminated music and arts programs.

“We are broadly interested in the impact of music training on cognitive, socio-emotional and brain development of children,” said Assal Habibi, the study’s lead author and a senior research associate at the BCI in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “These results reflect that children with music training, compared with the two other comparison groups, were more accurate in processing sound.”

For this study, the neuroscientists monitored brain development and behavior in a group of 37 children from underprivileged neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Thirteen of the children, at 6 or 7 years old, began to receive music instruction through the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program at HOLA. The community music training program was inspired by the El Sistema method, one that LA Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel had been in when he was growing up in Venezuela.

Learning to Play

The children learned to play instruments, such as the violin, in ensembles and groups, and they practiced up to seven hours a week. The researchers compared the budding musicians with peers in two other groups: 11 children in a community soccer program, and 13 children who are not involved in any specific after-school programs. Several tools were used to monitor changes in the children as they grew: MRI to monitor changes through brain scans, EEG to track electrical activity in the brains, behavioral testing, and other such techniques.

Within two years of the study, the neuroscientists found the auditory systems of children in the music program were maturing faster than in the other children. This enhanced maturity reflects an increase in neuroplasticity, a physiological change in the brain in response to its environment — in this case, exposure to music and music instruction.

“The auditory system is stimulated by music,” Habibi said. “This system is also engaged in general sound processing that is fundamental to language development, reading skills and successful communication.”

It is believed the fine-tuning of the children’s auditory pathways could accelerate their development of language and reading, as well as other abilities — a potential effect which this group of neuroscientists is continuing to study.

Ear to Brain

The auditory system connects our ear to our brain to process sound. When we hear something, our ears receive it in the form of vibrations that it converts into a neural signal. That signal is then sent to the brainstem, up to the thalamus at the center of the brain, and outward to its final destination, the primary auditory cortex, located near the sides of the brain.

The progress of a child’s developing auditory pathway can be measured by EEG, which tracks electrical signals, specifically those referred to as “auditory evoked potentials.” In this study, the scientists focused on an evoked potential called P1. They tracked amplitude — the number of neurons firing — as well as latency — the speed that the signal is transmitted. Both measures infer the maturity of the brain’s auditory pathways.

As children develop, both amplitude and the latency of P1 tend to decrease. This means that that they are becoming more efficient at processing sound.

At the beginning of the study and again two years later, the children completed a task measuring their abilities to distinguish tone. As the EEG was recording their electrical signals, they listened to violin tones, piano tones and single-frequency (pure) tones played. The children also completed a tonal and rhythm discrimination task in which they were asked to identify similar and different melodies. Twice, they heard 24 melodies in randomized order and were asked to identify which ones differed in tone and rhythm, and which were the same in tone and rhythm.

Children who were in the youth orchestra program were more accurate at detecting pitch changes in the melodies than the other two groups. All three groups were able to identify easily when the melodies were the same. However, children with music training had smaller P1 potential amplitude compared to the other children, indicating a faster rate of maturation.

“We observed a decrease in P1 amplitude and latency that was the largest in the music group compared to age-matched control groups after two years of training,” the scientists wrote. “In addition, focusing just on the (second) year data, the music group showed the smallest amplitude of P1 compared to both the control and sports group, in combination with the accelerated development of the N1 component.”

The Biology of Music

“Undeniably, there is a biology of music,” according to Harvard University Medical School neurobiologist Mark Jude Tramo. He sees it as beyond question that there is specialization within the brain for the processing of music. Music is a biological part of life as surely as it is an aesthetic part.

Studies as far back as 1990 found that the brain responds to harmony. Using a PET scanner to monitor changes in neural activity, neuroscientists at McGill University discovered that the part of the brain activated by music is dependent on whether or not the music is pleasant or dissonant.

The brain grows in response to musical training in the way a muscle responds to exercise. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston discovered that male musicians have larger brains than men who have not had extensive musical training. The cerebellums, that part of the brain containing 70 percent of the total brain’s neurons, were 5 percent larger in expert male musicians.

Researchers have also found evidence of the power of music to affect neural activity no matter where they looked in the brain, from primitive regions found in animals to more recently evolved areas thought to be strictly human such as the frontal lobes. Harmony, melody and rhythm invoke distinct patterns of brain activity.

“If children are not introduced to music at an early age, I believe something fundamental is actually being taken from them.” ~ Luciano Pavarotti

Please note: This article first appeared on, reproduced with permission.

The Benefits of Music and Music Education on Children’s Brains

The Benefits of Music and Music Education on Children's Brains

Study after study are showing that music education can make kids smart.  When your child learns to play a musical instrument, not only does he learn how to make tunes, but he also enhances other capabilities of his brain as well:

    • A 10 year study involving 25,000 students show that music-making improves test scores in standardized tests, as well as in reading proficiency exams (Source: James Catterall, UCLA, 1997).
    • High school music students score higher on the math and verbal portion of SAT, compared to their peers (Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by Music Educators Conference, 2001).
    • The IQ’s of young students who had nine months of weekly training in piano or voice rose nearly three points more than their untrained peers (Study by E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga, 2004.)
    • Piano students can understand mathematical and scientific concepts more readily.  Children who received piano training performed 34 percent higher on tests measuring proportional reasoning – ratios, fractions, proportions, and thinking in space and time (Neurological Research, 1997).
    • Pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly in students who were given a 3-year piano instruction (Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi study presented at the meeting of the Music Educators National Conference, Phoenix, AZ, 1998).
    • Music students received more academic honors and awards than non-music students.  These music students also have more A and B grades compared to non-music students (National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 First Follow-Up, U.S. Department of Education).
    • More music majors who applied for medical school were admitted compared to those in other majors including English, biology, chemistry and math. (“The Comparative Academic Abilites of Students in Education and in Other Areas of a Multi-focus University,” Peter H. Wood, ERIC Document No. ED327480; “The Case for Music in Schools”, Phi Delta Kappan, 1994)
  • A 2015 study from University of Queensland Australia suggests that the positive impact of engaging in informal music activities with your toddler is even greater than that of reading to him. The benefit to your child is specifically in the areas of acquiring positive social skills, attention regulation and to a lesser but still significant extent, numeracy. When an adult, typically a parent, engages a child in playing with him with music, such as improvising a counting song or making new rhymes to a familiar song, the unique combination of face-to-face interaction, creativity and sound results in learning that is reinforced by positive, empathic emotional relationship.
  • Musical training before age 7 is linked with more white matter in the corpus callosum part of the brain, as well as better performance on visual sensorimotor synchronization tasks, according to a study conducted by scientists from Concordia University and the Montreal Neurological Institute Hospital at McGill University.
  • A study has found that music lessons for kids make their minds sharper when they grow older. According to study researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, a neurologist at the Emory University School of Medicine,”Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging. Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”
  • A research from Northwestern University conclude that music lessons taken in childhood could benefit your kid’s brain later in life, even if he does not continue taking lessons into adulthood. The researchers have found that brain responses to speech are faster among older adults who took music lessons even if they have not taken music lessons in a long time. The benefits seem to be stronger the longer a person took music lessons as a child.
  • A study conducted by Fred Travis, Maharishi University of Management in the US, Harald Harung, Oslo University College in Norway, and Yvonne Lagrosen, University West in Sweden shows that musician’s brains are highly developed in a way that makes musicians alert, interested in learning, and disposed to see the whole picture, calm and playful.

Other research also linked music education and music making with increased language discrimination and development, improved school grades, and better-adjusted social behavior.

Why does this happen?  What is at work here? There are a number of theories.

One of them is that exposure to music offers many benefits to a child’s brain. It promotes language acquisition, listening skills, memory, and motor skills. Musical experiences integrate these different skills simultaneously, resulting in developing multiple brain neural connections

Researchers think that since piano and music-learning involve appreciating the length of notes in proportion to others (half-note has half-duration when played compared to whole note, etc), when a child plays music, he exercises the part of his brain that processes proportional thinking.

A grasp of proportional math and fractions is required for students to understand math at higher levels.  Children who do not master these areas of math cannot understand more advanced math which is important in high-tech fields.

Also, exposure to music improves spatial-temporal reasoning. This is the ability to see disassembled parts and mentally putting them back together. Math skills also depend on this kind of reasoning

Learning musical instruments also involves interpreting notes and musical symbols that the brain sees to form melodies – a series of sounds that vary with time.  Music making therefore enhances the brain’s “hard-wiring” for the ability to visualize and transform objects in space and time.

Also, learning to play music develops discipline that is beneficial to academic achievement.

“With music lessons, because there are so many different facets involved–such as memorizing, expressing emotion, learning about musical interval and chords–the multidimensional nature of the experience may be motivating the [IQ] effect,” said study author E. Glenn Schellenberg, of the University of Toronto at Mississauga.

study by University of Southern California published in 2016 finds that learning to play musical instruments accelerates the brain development in young children, particularly areas that are responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills. In the study, neuroscientists found that auditory systems of children who receive music instructions were fine-tuned and could accelerate language development and reading, as well as other abilities.

A study from Boston Children’s Hospital suggests that learning an instrument also develops the brain’s executive functions which are coordinated in the brain’s frontal lobe. It allows the child to manage time and attention, organize his thoughts and regulate his behavior. These are skills that are important in school success, as well as in adult life.

Music also teaches your child that if he works hard at something, he will gradually get better. A life lesson that is also valuable in later life.

See also The Benefits of Art to your Kid’s Intelligence

Need music that will increase your focus?



Jul 01, 2016

You know that feeling: Friday afternoon, with only a few to-do list items between you and your weekend plans. And obviously, you know logically that all you have to do is knock out some emails and finish a task or two before you’re home free, but it’s so hard to get in the right mindset to work because you’re just not in the mood.

Or how about when you know you have a big job interview the next morning? All you want to do is get a decent night’s sleep, but your racing thoughts clearly have different plans for the evening.

In any situation, it can be really annoying—frustrating, even—to not be in the proper mental state for tackling the task at hand. And that can make all the difference between a productive 30 minutes and a terrible day.

Making your brain chill out about Facebook, buckle down, and actually cooperate is pretty essential for any kind of productivity, even if the goal you have in mind is unwinding and relaxing for a few hours.

So, I’ve been experimenting with different ambient noise tools to mold my own ideal work environment, and a notable one I came by recently was, a science-backed music platform that helps you sleep, focus, or relax. Here’s everything you need to know about it:

What Is
Essentially, it’s smart music that’s supposed to put you in the mindset to improve any of three things: sleep, focus, or relax. With different sessions and configurations targeted to meet each of those goals (or “brain states”) accordingly, the platform has a lot of potential for helping you clear out the mind clutter and get stuff done. All you have to do is listen, and you should notice the effects in 10 minutes or less.

The Science Behind It is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that composes music for the goal, tracks what works, and adjusts accordingly. The musical compositions are geared toward helping “the listener achieve certain neurological brain states” such as productivity, restfulness, or relaxation. It does so keeping two key concepts in mind: entertainment and dynamic auditory attending theory. But what do those big words really mean? The technology produces musical rhythms that sync up to your brain’s natural rhythm and affect your consciousness and energy accordingly.

Adam Hewitt, co-founder and inventor behind, has had a long professional history of working, experimenting, and innovating with audio. He’s done clinical research on music and the brain in the past, having produced auditory software in many branches of neuroscience. Plus, he’s not the only mastermind behind it all—he’s worked with a number of scientists to confirm that the sessions are well-designed. So, I think it’s reasonable to say that we’re in good hands.

But, does it actually help? These are my results—in order from “meh” to “yes!”

The Sleep Session
I recently was on a nine-hour train ride with unreliable Wi-Fi, and tried to pass the time by sleeping through some of it. I thought: If there were any time for’s sleep session to pull through for me, now would be it.

About halfway through the 45-minute nap configuration I selected, I was still wide awake and ready to give up. Between the constant movement, mechanical noise, and people chatter, I’m not sure there’s enough science in the world to help anyone nap on trains.

While’s sleep session didn’t do the trick for me, I don’t really blame it under those extreme conditions. While I definitely recommend looking at other resources for getting better sleep, it might still be worth it to give this tool a shot under more reasonable circumstances.

The Focus Session
The other day, I brought my work with me to a local coffee shop, and my mind was buzzing from the nice walk over and the prospect of lunch coming up. Daydreaming about what spot I’d like to eat at seemed so much more appealing than tending to all my emails from the day before. I thought, maybe I could (really) use the focus session right now.

Don’t get me wrong—I was really skeptical it would do anything for me. But after working for 30 minutes, I noticed how much time had passed and was absolutely fine with continuing. What really strikes me about the session was that it felt so meditative and soothing. And it was what I needed to carry me painlessly through the morning grind. Before I knew it, it was time for that lunch break.

The Relaxation Session
I’ll be the first to admit: I’m punctual to a fault. The saying, “If you’re not early, you’re late,” was made for people like me. And if it looks like I’m about to be late going somewhere, I all but panic about it.

But I also try to keep the mindset that if I’m already doing my best to be on my way—whether that’s on a subway car, stuck in traffic, or even walking over—stressing doesn’t help. (And it certainly doesn’t speed up the process.) So, why not at least try to enjoy the commute? I plugged into the relaxation session with hopes to calm down and pass the time, and that’s just what happened.

As with introducing any kind of new music to your workflow, the first time listening will require finding your footing, since you don’t know at all what to expect. And, because it tracks your progress and keeps record of works best for you individually, has plenty of room to adapt and become more effective with consistent use.

The platform is free for the first seven sessions, so why not try it out? Give it a shot and see for yourself if it’s worth keeping up.

This article originally published at The Muse here

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