© Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis
© Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis

Musical practice has a positive effect on teenagers, science says.

A recent study by researchers at North-western University in Chicago provides scientific evidence that practicing music and training has a positive impact on teenagers’ brains. A strong argument that could redefine the role of music in school curriculums.

A recent study by researchers at North-western University in Chicago provides scientific evidence that practicing music and training has a positive impact on teenagers’ brains. A strong argument that could redefine the role of music in school curriculums. 

In recent years, many studies have largely proved the benefits of musical practice on children's brain development, cognitively, emotionally and behaviourally. Thus, we have conveyed the study from the researchers at North-western University in Chicago led by Nina Kraus, Communication Science professor, on the impact of musical learning on children from 3 to 6 years cognitive skills, concluding that "learning music can literally reshape a child's brain to improve sound reception, which automatically improves learning and language acquisition skills."

However, musical practice for young children is usually a parental initiative and is often practiced as an extra-curricular activity. In most countries, including France, it is not part of the main curriculum before middle or high school. As a result, some young people will never have experience with musical practice before joining their high school choir or orchestra.

In addition, it has been scientifically proven that receptivity to auditory stimuli is the most effective during the first years of life, gradually declining thereafter, hence young children’s ease for learning foreign languages.

Taking all these arguments into consideration, what do we do with teenagers? Is there a scientific interest, when they only start playing music for the first time in college?

This is the question that Nina Kraus' team put forward in the recent study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The results are unequivocal: even in early teenage years, music improves brain responsiveness to sound, increases language-learning skills, and in general, favours academic performance.

"Considering the current situation where schools reduce the hours devoted to music education when costs have to be cut at every level, the results of our study reaffirms the importance of music in the school curriculum," says Nina Kraus. "The results show that teenagers’ brain remain very receptive to music, confirming the importance of encouraging musical practice and training during adolescence, and especially within schools.

For three years, Nina Kraus, Adam Tierney and Jennifer Krizman followed two groups of students in underprivileged Chicago suburbs. Half were involved in school orchestras with two to three hours of rehearsals a week. The students did not have any previous musical training and only learnt to read scores at school. The results from the reference group using medical imaging showed significant changes in adolescent musicians’ brain development, with a faster neuronal response in sound treatment and discrimination. On the cognitive side, it resulted in improved language skills and learning abilities."Although practicing music does not seem to teach the skills directly related to many professions, our results suggest that practicing music ‘teaches how to learn'" explains the researcher. Let's put it this way: besides the pleasure of mastering a musical instrument and playing with friends, musical practice in school can significantly improve the teenager’s brain functionalities. More proof for all those who were still doubt.

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