I could never imagine my life without ever learning to play piano. Sure, in earlier years when I was practicing for exams it could seem to be a chore. The thing that kept me going was the beauty of playing each piece perfectly. It is one of life’s greatest feelings.

Albert Einstein felt the same way when describing his feelings towards music. Albert Einstein began playing the violin when he was 6 years old. He was playing Mozart sonatas by the age of 13. Einstein once said, “Life without playing music is inconceivable to me. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.”

Along with enjoying music from practice and training there are even more benefits to the brain.

A new study from Boston Children’s Hospital has found a correlation between musical training and improved executive function in both children and adults. In the past, studies have identified a link between musical training and cognitive abilities, but very few have looked specifically at the effects of early musical training on executive function.

Executive functions are described as high-level cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information, regulate their behaviors, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands. Another component of executive functions is cognitive flexibility. It is the ability to adjust to novel or changing tasks on demand.

Nadine Gaab, PhD, from the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s Hospital said in a press release, “Since executive functioning is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ, we think our findings have strong educational implications.” Adding, “While many schools are cutting music programs and spending more and more time on test preparation, our findings suggest that musical training may actually help to set up children for a better academic future.”

Adult musicians and musically trained children in the new Boston study showed enhanced performance on several aspects of executive functioning. In an MRI, the children with musical training showed enhanced activation of specific areas of the prefrontal cortex during a test that made them switch between mental tasks.

More specifically these brain areas included: the supplementary motor area, the pre-supplementary area and the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. All of these brain regions have been linked to executive function. Another interesting aspect, enhanced brain activation was also apparent within other brain regions that are not commonly linked to executive function, including the insula and cerebellum.

The age at which musical training begins is very important because it affects brain anatomy as an adult. The age that has the greatest impact is before the age of seven, but it is never too late to see the benefits.

References:

-Psychology Today
-This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel J.Levitin

 

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