Conventional wisdom says that in order to become very good at a demanding task such as playing a musical instrument, you have to start young. Indeed, several neuroimaging studies have reported that training-related changes in brain structure are most pronounced in musicians who have started early. However, is it the age at which you start learning this skill that matters, or only the fact that if you start practicing young, you spend more years practicing? Is there an optimum age when a child should start practicing an instrument to attain the biggest benefits?
Evidence has accumulated during the last couple of decades that musical training shapes the brain in many ways. For instance, since playing a musical instrument requires accurate sound processing and control of movement, musicians’ brains appear to devote more resources to sound processing and motor functions and the integration of the two. Playing music from notes also requires a close interplay between visual and auditory processing. Therefore, might musical training also enhance the brain’s ability for audiovisual integration, the combining of sound and sight?
Several studies have shown that music training during childhood augments how the brain processes sound and can also influence the development of language skills. According to a recent study, the effects are not limited to only childhood, but music training even during teenage years can have an effect on the maturation of brain functions important for linguistic skills.
Music training requires the parallel use of a wide variety of skills, including control over movements, accurate auditory skills, attention and memory. Formal music lessons are a rigorous, often daily, exercise of these skills that typically start in early childhood and persist for years. Research reveals this type of training and learning has more widespread effects on the brain than other activities.
Many caregivers think that music training is a good way to support cognitive development of their child. What does the science say on this? Can any kind of musical activity produce benefits and have an effect on the developing brain?
Studies have shown that already at birth, and even before it, children possess many skills needed to process music. Mere exposure to music influences the development of auditory processing and gradually makes us accustomed to the specific features of the music of the culture we live in. Read more about how memories of music in utero can be traced when children are born and how music affects other important aspects of early childhood development.