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Friday 25th May 2018

Music to young ears

21st September 2006

21092006_musicgirl1.jpgA new study shows that young children who have musical training exhibit more advanced brain development and improved memory than those who do not.

Researchers from McMaster University's Institute for Music and the Mind in Hamilton, Ontario, and the Rotman Research Institute of the University of Toronto, report that children taking music lessons  performed better in memory tests correlated with general intelligence skills, for example mathematics, literacy, verbal memory, and IQ.

The findings, published in the journal Brain, say that this improvement occurs in children as young as four.  The researchers compared 12 children aged four to six years over a year: six of the children had just started a Suzuki music school; the other six had no music lessons outside school.  

The Suzuki method is a Japanese approach which encourages children to listen to and imitate music before they attempt to read it.

The children listened to two types of sounds, a violin tone and a white noise burst. Brain activity was studied with magnetoencephalography, which measures magnetic fields in the brain.

Larger responses were seen to violin tones than to the white noise in all children, indicating that more brain resources were put to processing meaningful sounds. The time that it took for the brain to respond to the sounds also decreased over the year.

However, the Suzuki children exhibited a greater change over the year in response to violin tones in a part of the brain scan related to attention and sound discrimination than did the children not taking music lessons. The children studying music also had greater improvement in general memory capacity.

The results add weight to teachers and parents who feel that music should be part of the pre-school and primary school curriculum, say the researchers.

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John Finlayson

Wednesday 27th September 2006 @ 18:07

There's no indication here that the researchers addressed the issue of selection bias. The article doesn't say whether the children were randomly assigned to either group.

If they didn't randomize, it is quite plausible that the entire positive effect they found is nothing more than and artifact of self-selection. Bright kids who are eager to learn new things are probably more likely to be interested and willing to engage in music lessons. One would expect the same bright kids to improve their memory skills over a year more than other kids do, regardless of whether or not they have music training.

John Finlayson

Wednesday 27th September 2006 @ 18:33

In the Brain article (free full text URL below), the authors indicate that they relied on the non-selectivity of the Suzuki programme itself to prevent the bias toward more capable children receiving the music training. Quote:

"[T]he [Suzuki] programme strictly forbids selection of children according to their initial musical talent. This ensures that children enrolled in the programme are not selected because they are behaviourally gifted before the training."

No. That doesn't "ensure" that Suzuki students aren't more behaviourally gifted than average. It only addresses selection bias from the music teacher. There's still the problem of self-selection by the children and their families.

To use a personal example, we have a behaviorally challenged 7-year-old and a behaviorally gifted 4-year-old. The former couldn't handle Suzuki at 4, but the latter can.


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