Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Training-induced Neuroplasticity in Young Children

Schlaug, G., Forgeard, M., Zhu, L., Norton, A., Norton, A. and Winner, E. (2009), Training-induced Neuroplasticity in Young Children. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169: 205–208.

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Because studies have shown that professional musicians who start music training before age 7 have a larger anterior corpus callosum than non-musicians, suggestions have been made that due to such music training, plasticity in the CC may occur in early childhood. To test this theory, researchers examine the impact of what 29 months of instruments music training would have on the sub areas of the corpus callosum.

The study divides 31 children (5-7yrs old) into three groups: high-practicing, low-practicing, and controls. 18 of the children attended half-hour private or semi-private instrumental lessons, while 13 children represented the control group where no instrumental training was received. At the beginning and end of the study, the children underwent high-resolution T1-weighted MR brain scans, and also completed a 4-finger fine motor-skill sequencing task.

After approximately 29 months of observation, the results show that, for the high-practicing group, there was a difference in the anterior mid-body of the corpus callosum, including an improvement in their motor-skill sequencing task. By contrast, children in the low-practice and control groups did not show any difference in the CC. These results provide evidence that rather than preexisting differences, early, intensive, and prolonged music training affects the size of the larger anterior CC area.


This study reinforces what we have discussed in class about brain plasticity and the importance of the midline crossing. The fact that early music training affects the size in the corpus callosum, mainly because of the midline crossing, has great meaning for music educators in terms of pedagogy. Would similar results occur if we compared children who participate in multi-sensory approach learning in the music classroom, with a music specialist, versus children who do not have a separate music class, but still learn music through their homeroom teacher? Would there be a significant difference in the size of the subarea in the corpus callosum if we examine the results of those who had music training outside of school and those who only participated in a multi-sensory approach music classroom?

Additionally, the fact that brain plasticity occurs across the lifespan, opens the door for more exciting research on music and rehabilitation. As we have seen in the colloquy, the need for collaboration between musicians, educators, and all those in the medical/rehabilitation field is so important. I would also be interested to see more studies of adults and seniors who learn to play an instrument later on in life. Taking what we know about brain plasticity and the power of music, I would hope that the result is a positive one.

1 comment:

Katie said...

We know that music training at an early age has an effect on the corpus callosum as well as the sensory and motor areas, but I wonder if this phenomenon is limited to young children alone. Edwin Gordon would say that these children are simply reaching their innate potential, but I think it would be interesting to execute the same experiment on slightly older children or monitor these children as they age. I also agree that we should experiment on adults who learn to play an instrument later in life. Many of my students don’t start playing an instrument until they are 13 years old. So what is the cut-off for brain plasticity in music? And are there other ways to increase the size of the corpus callosum other than with music?