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May 21st, 2009
Music and the Brain
The Importance of Early Musical Training
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Oliver Sacks: And you’ll find that even a few minutes of five finger exercises will make functional changes in the brain, so the brain’s response to music in physiological terms is almost immediate although obviously it would take months or whatever to have anatomical changes. But a year of Suzuki training will produce physical changes in the brain, and there have been studies looking at the brains before and after a year of training. And so whatever gifts a  person has or doesn’t have, musical training seems to be very important, the more so if it’s early.

If music can so alter the brain, at least the musical parts of the brain, when people are young, one would wonder the role of music in education, and whether this enlargement and benefit can spread to other parts of the brain, whether it will facilitate reading, memory, concentration, focus, and there’s quite a lot of evidence that this is the case, and therefore strong arguments for including music in education. But I stress this is something beyond the so-called Mozart effect. A little Mozart under the pillow, a teaspoon of Mozart, while it’s very pleasant and it may introduce people to Mozart, in itself, that’s not enough. There needs to be real engagements with music and a lot of it.

  • Vicki A. Jones, LCSW, Sr Fellow-BCIA

    Neurofeedback can monitor an individual’s functional response to specific music. The pairing of a variety of stimulus music with monitored brain activity may be an efficient way of guiding brain training. Perhaps music becomes the rhythm of the brain?

  • Leo Toribio

    Dr Sachs:

    Among other things, I was intrigued by the story of the surgeon, stricken by lightning,who suddenly manifested an obsession with music. I believe Freud might have conjectured that his entire life — athletics in school, pop music, medical school, etc. — had been lived to conform to other people’s demands and expectations. Then the near death experience freed him from the imposed discipline, achieved through inhibition and brought more personal,suppressed desires to the forefront.

    While I am no Freudian, I find such an argument persuasive. Has anyone investigated that possibility?

    Leo Toribio
    Pittsburgh, PA

  • Sharon Burch

    I heartily agree and am intrigued to learn more. Most importantly, we can conclude that intentional, engaged music education can only be an asset, not a detriment in anyway. Therefore, why not music? Why wait for research to guarantee results? It may be too late and you missed your opportunity. “Gifted” or not, music instruction for children can only be positive.

  • Angela Reynolds

    I have a 17 year old son. He was diagnosed early with learning disabilities, ADD and had trouble achieving basic standards in education. Later a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome was made. He was a D and F student. At age 10, he requested piano lessons and has studied music since then. He can play excellently for recitals, but as a musician myself I am amazed that he has no discipline, does not practice, plays any instrument he picks up. Most of all his academic abilities have improved greatly (although he believes all classes except music are ridiculous and doesn’t test well). My challenge is to advocate so that he may achieve post-secondary education with, just okay grades.

  • Mary Gregory

    I was wondering if you studied people with perfect pitch and also music composers who have said that they hear the music in their heads and then write it down. I know of a composer who asked, “Doesn’t everyone hear music in their head?” I have personally been “high on music.” Especially after singing or hearing a concert of music. In high school I called it “a natural high.” Also, I have read that children that took piano lessons, at about second grade, had better math scores. I am a music teacher and I can say that music and intelligence go together. The students that I had in class that were good singers also received awards in academic areas. I have also encountered many students that could not match pitch. Also, some could not even sustain a musical note. Music teachers refer to students that cannot match pitch as singing “in the basement.”

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