Ever wonder why you were forced to play the flute in third grade? No, it wasn’t so your parents could enjoy an “ear piercing” at the hour-long festival every few months in your elementary school auditorium.

It was probably because learning to play a musical instrument is good for your brain development during those critical childhood years.

Why play a musical instrument

Now this may not seem like new information, but researchers at the University of Vermont have recently conducted the “largest investigation into the association between playing a musical instrument and brain development ,” according to a press release.

They found that by playing an instrument, children are not only learning Beethoven and Bach; They are also learning to focus their attention, control their emotions, and reduce their anxiety , which undoubtedly helps brain development in children.

How it helps brain development

Using data files from the Institute of Health and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), led by Dr. James Hudziak, brain scans of 232 children aged 6 to 18 years were analyzed.

In evaluating the scans, the team focused on the cortex, the outer layer of the brain , which changes thickness as the child grows.

In her previous research, Hudziak found that patterns of cortical thickening and thinning can indicate levels of anxiety, depression, attention problems, aggressiveness, and behavior problems, even in undiagnosed children.

With this new study, Hudziak’s goal was to see if music training could alter these patterns, and indeed the results say it can.

Playing a musical instrument alters the motor areas of the brain due to the coordination that is required.

Perhaps the most important finding was that playing music changes the behavioral and regulatory areas of the brain, thickening the part of the cortex that controls performance. This area is responsible for working memory, attention control, and organizational skills.

Music helps improve emotions

Another area that they found in which musical formation thickens the cortex is the one that plays a fundamental role in the inhibitory control and transformation of certain emotions.

In other words, grasping an instrument could help a child battle a psychological disorder even more effectively than medication.

“We treat things that result from negative things, but we never try to use positive things as treatment,” Hudziak said.

Research from the US Department of Education reveals that a surprising three-quarters of US high school students “rarely or never” take music or arts lessons.

It is evident why music training should be a higher priority for schools. It can provide young people with a sense of rhythm that extends beyond the world of music – in the classroom, the workplace, and even their personal life.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses. He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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