Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Effects of Musical Training on Structural Brain Development - A Longitudinal Study Krista L. Hyde, Jason Lerch,Andrea Norton, Marie Forgeard,


This study examined the structural brain and behavioural changes in the developing brain in response to long-term music training and to specifically address the question of whether structural brain differences seen in adults are a product of “nature” or “nurture”. As part of an on going study, the researchers investigated the structural brain changes in relation to behavioural changes in young children who received 15 months of instrumental music (keyboard) training relative to a group of children who did not. The children who did not participate in keyboard lessons were still involved in singing and percussion lessons at their own schools.

The subjects performed a 4-finger motor sequencing test for the left and right hands assessing fine finger motor skills, music listening skills, and discrimination skills. 5 additional non-music tests were also administered as well as behavioural tests. MRI scans were also used to determine brain differences.

There were no behavourial or brain differences between the Instrumental and Control children at base line prior to any music training. Therefore the brain differences of adults who have musical training are more likely to be the product of intensive musical training rather than biological predispositions. The children who had instrumental music lessons showed greater behaviour improvement on the finger motor tasks but not the non-musical tasks. They did show an improvement in the right primary motor area, corpus callosum, and the right auditory processing areas. While these were somewhat expected, there were additional developments in various frontal areas and occipital regions.

These findings indicate that plasticity can occur in brain regions that control primary functions important for playing a musical instrument and also in brain regions that might be responsible for the kind of multimodal sensorimotor integration likely to underlie instrumental learning.


I found it interesting that the control non-instrumental group was still participating in singing and drumming in regular mainstream school. The sensory motor areas were only activated when the students learned keyboarding, so we as educators need to look at what these students do in their private piano studios that is different from what we do with the whole class when singing and drumming. For one thing, students are required to use both hands when playing keyboard while reading two different staves of music. So this lead me to wonder about using body percussion in class, where students read two different lines of rhythms and play them simultenously on their own body. Or if singing and playing a rhythm would have the same benefits of keyboarding.

We know that brain plasticity in children occurs in regions related to playing a musical instrument. This study shows us that developing the brain through musical long-term experience leads to adult brain differences and promotes higher motor-skill functions. Music educators should therefore incorporate activities that promote this development in their own classrooms, and this is why we should advocate music education in the classroom all through elementary school, even if there is no direct correlation between performance on music tests and performance on other behavioural tests.


squre said...

nice post

Sonya Harper Nyby said...

I'm wondering if the control group worked with only non-pitched percussion instruments in class. As you wrote, perhaps the children who weren't taking piano lessons could have achieved the same results if their brains had to coordinate two musical activities simultaneously (e.g. singing and playing a separate rhythmic line). If the children played Orff instruments in class using both hands, maybe we would see similar results. I'd also be interested in exploring the effect of creating music in two-part harmony individually versus with a partner or in a larger group to compare brain activity in the motor area with activity in the auditory processing area.

Federico said...

An interesting point brought up by your commentary is the idea that, with respect to the creation of neuronal patterns and improvement of motor-skills functions, the practice of body percussion might give the same (or similar) results as keyboard practice. I think that one difference between body percussion and keyboard playing is the following: while tapping rhythm on your body implies the use of only one or two part/s of your body (e.g. your hand), playing keyboard (a chord, for example) implies the micro-management of a number of small and extremely detailed movements of your fingers, and the coordination of various body parts (e.g. arms and hands). This, I think, is a more complex activity for the brain than tapping two rhythms at the same time. However, you also mentioned singing+tapping; this double activity implies the control over a complex series of delicate body mechanisms (voice is probably the most intricate and complex instrument we know); therefore, it might be possible to consider this example as closer to the practice at the keyboard?
In any case, I think it is absolutely true what you said about having music in classroom as an extremely important educational factor. This for many reasons: not only because it enhances musical skills and brain activity, but also because of its rich social implications.

andrea said...

It would be very interesting to address the musical instruction that the control non-instrument group received in school. What was the duration, what did students do, etc. This may help us to understand the extent to which the control group actually did receive music instruction--perhaps the school music opportunities were more limited than we may realize and most likely, they were at a very different level.
A very poignant discussion point made in the last comment regarding the intricate control required by keyboardists and vocalists who are also accompanying their own singing, versus a simultaneous body percussion rhythm. Most likely a highly complex action requiring more neural activity.
This is not to say that an instrumentalist who receives extensive instruction and private lessons will not see the same benefits as a keyboardist. Even though they may not be reading two clefs at once, they are still requiring the motor control of all of their fingers as well as an embouchure, breathing control and articulations, as well as the expression that goes along with any musical activity. Perhaps it was, to a high degree, the intensity of the instruction that truly made the difference?
In addition, the social skills that music builds is an invaluable benefit to music instruction in schools, so most definitely, music should be included and advocated within our school systems.