All musical training has some benefits for brains, but new research shows how brain regions communicate during the creation of music and find that extensive musical training affects the structure and function of different brain regions and even how the brain interprets and integrates sensory information.
These insights suggest potential new roles for musical training including fostering plasticity in the brain, an alternative tool in education, and treating a range of learning disabilities.
The new findings say that:
- Long-term high level musical training has a broader impact than previously thought. Researchers found that musicians have an enhanced ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch, and sight (Julie Roy, abstract 550.13, see attached summary).
- The age at which musical training begins affects brain anatomy as an adult; beginning training before the age of seven has the greatest impact (Yunxin Wang, abstract 765.07 see attached summary).
- Brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, leading to less reliance on working memory and more extensive connectivity within the brain (Ana Pinho, MS, abstract 122.13, see attached summary).
Some of the brain changes that occur with musical training reflect the automation of task (much as one would recite a multiplication table) and the acquisition of highly specific sensorimotor and cognitive skills required for various aspects of musical expertise.
"Playing a musical instrument is a multisensory and motor experience that creates emotions and motions — from finger tapping to dancing — and engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain. It has the potential to change brain function and structure when done over a long period of time," said press conference moderator Gottfried Schlaug, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "As today's findings show, intense musical training generates new processes within the brain, at different stages of life, and with a range of impacts on creativity, cognition, and learning."