The Surprising Brain Benefits of Playing an Instrument

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There are many reasons why encouraging kids to pick up an instrument could be beneficial to their lives. Music is a celebrated form of expression that fosters creativity—and most importantly, it’s fun!

A recent study shows there’s even more good news when it comes to playing instruments: musical training during adolescence could protect the brain by preventing decay in speech-learning skills later in life.

During this study, researchers at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences gathered a group of 20 healthy older adults ages 55 to 75. Half of these participants had musical training during their youth, while the other 10 were non-musicians growing up. Each of the participants wore headphones in a controlled lab setting and were asked to identify random speech sounds while researchers recorded the patients’ neural activity using electroencephalography (EEG). They found that older adults who had musical training in their youth could identify speech sounds 20 percent faster than their non-musician peers during the tests.

Gavin Bidelman, who led the study as a post-doctoral fellow, explains:

In our study we were able to predict how well older people classify or identify speech using EEG imaging. We saw a brain-behavior response that was two to three times better in the older musicians compared to non-musicians peers. In other words, old musicians’ brains provide a much more detailed, clean, and accurate depiction of the speech signal, which is likely why they are much more sensitive and better at understanding speech.

Musical training can give teens a cognitive boost and neural enhancements that extend into old age. That’s when the brain needs it most to counteractive cognitive decline. Encourage your kids to play an instrument by signing them up for classes and staying involved in their practice. You might just be helping protect their brains for years to come!

For more about teens’ brain health, check out the “From Gah! To Ahhh…” and “The Science of Optimism” stories from Choices! Choices is a teen health, well-being, and life skills magazine published by Scholastic.

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