TOPIC Learning to play a musical instrument impacts on other abilities, including speech perception, understanding emotions in the voice, and handling multiple tasks simultaneously.
FINDING This is a new area of scientific study and focuses on the benefits of music in the lives of children in education. The findings are helping researchers identify the underlying mechanism which sees enhancement of language, reading, and math skills.
More than simply seeing the auditory system improved the findings are asking questions about whether music training trains a child’s executive functioning skills, leading to improvement of academic skills. The studies compared the brain activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain – where executive functioning takes place – in children musically trained and not.
More research will clarify which enhances which: musical enhancement enhancing executive functioning, or vice versa, but early implications are towards the former.
IMPLICATIONS Neuropsychologist Ani Patel has developed the OPERA hypothesis which suggests:
O = there’s an overlap between the networks of the brain that are involved with music and other day-to-day cognitive functions such as language, memory, and attention:
P = the precision in tuning an instrument is very important:
E-R-A = are emotion, repetition, and attention – three things known to promote brain plasticity.
As music places higher demands on the brain it seems music enhances these other networks and their abilities.
The conversation I mentioned at the beginning, fascinated, opening up different literacies, but it seems music – which we love around the world – opens up the possibilities of enhancing all forms of intelligence and literacy.
“Music addresses some of the behaviors and skills that are necessary for academic success. Since we started implementing El Sistema, the Venezuelan music program, as well as project-based learning, our test scores have increased dramatically.” (Diana Lam; Conservatory Lab Charter School, Boston)
“So this idea, that music sometimes places higher demands on the brain, on some of the same shared networks that we use for other abilities, allows the music to actually enhance those networks, and those abilities benefit.” (Associate Professor of Psychology Ani Patel; Tufts University)
Wbur’s Common Health (July 17): http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2014/07/music-language-brain
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