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Music Training Improves Memory, Reading Skills in Children

Aug 09, 2014 08:20 AM EDT

Singing or learning to play a musical instrument helps children belonging to low socioeconomic status improve their academic performance, a new study suggests.

Nina Kraus, PhD, a neurobiologist at the Northwestern University said that the study supports the idea that musical training can help impoverished children improve their language and reading skills.

Previous research has shown that children who learn music do better than their peers in school. However, these studies were only conducted on children belonging to upper and middle class. The present study included students from musical training programs in Chicago and Los Angeles public schools.

"Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn," said Kraus. "While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap."

According to researchers, musical training improves brain's ability to process sounds. Children who learn music are better equipped to understand sounds in a noisy background. Improvements in neural networks also strengthen memory and learning skills.

The study was conducted on two sets of children. One set was given music classes, while the other received Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps classes. Children in both groups had comparable IQs at the start of the study.

The researchers recorded children's brain waves as they listened to repeated syllable against a soft background sound. The children were tested again after one year of music training/JROTC classes and again after a two-year study period. The team found that children's neural responses were strengthened after two years of music classes. The study shows that music training isn't a quick fix, but is a long-term approach to improve academic performance of children belonging to lower socioeconomic classes.

"We're spending millions of dollars on drugs to help kids focus and here we have a non-pharmacologic intervention that thousands of disadvantaged kids devote themselves to in their non-school hours-that works," Margaret Martin, founder of Harmony Project in Los Angeles, said in a news release. "Learning to make music appears to remodel our kids' brains in ways that facilitates and improves their ability to learn."

The study was presented at the American Psychological Association's 122nd Annual Convention.

Previous research has found that music is effective in promoting pro-social behavior in teenage boys who have learning difficulties and poor social skills.

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