NAMM-Supported Research Shows Musical Training Affects Brain Development in Young Children

December 6, 2006

NAMM, the trade association of the international music products industry, recently reported the results of association-supported research that found young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year compared to children who do not receive musical training. The findings are from a research study conducted at McMaster University in Canada assessing the affects of musical training on young children.

NAMM supported research by Dr. Christo Pantev, director of the Institute for Biomagnetism and Biosignal analysis at the University of Münster in Germany, who worked with a team of researchers at McMaster University. The results were officially published in the September 20, 2006, issue of the journal Brain, and were outlined in articles by The Washington Post and The Guardian.

The analysis focused on children between the ages of 4 and 6, and is the first study to identify the effects of musical training using brain-based measurements in young children. After taking four measurements in two groups of children—those taking Suzuki music lessons and those taking no musical training outside of school—the team concluded that children performed better on a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ.

The research team chose children being trained by the Suzuki method for several reasons: it ensured the children were all educated in the same way; that they were not selected for training according to their initial musical talent; and that they had similar support from their families. Brain activity was measured by magnetoecephalography (MEG) while the children listened to two types of sounds: a violin tone and a white noise burst.

“This is the first study to show that brain responses in young, musically trained and untrained children change differently over the course of a year,” said Laurel Trainor, professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at McMaster University and director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. “These changes are likely to be related to the cognitive benefit that is seen with musical training.”

Trainor led the study with Takako Fujioka, a scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Ontario, Canada; Bernhard Ross, a researcher in music perception at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute; Ryusuke Kakigi, a researcher at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Okazaki, Japan; and NAMM-funded researcher Pantev.

NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond said this research adds significantly to previous studies that NAMM has supported regarding the importance of children being exposed to music.

“The fact that this study is concentrated on the positive affects of music on very young children is yet another fascinating and wonderful finding about how music can have a lasting impression on people’s lives,” Lamond said.

About McMaster University
McMaster is a full-service university. With well-established strengths in health care, engineering, business, social sciences, science, and humanities research and education, the University offers both students and professors exciting and unique opportunities for research, education and collaboration.

With a long-standing reputation as Canada's "most innovative" university, McMaster has pioneered a number of programs that have changed how professors teach and students learn. Problem-based-learning (PBL), pioneered at McMaster, has now spread across North America as a preferred method of instructing undergraduate students.

Through its continued dedication to innovative education and groundbreaking research, the University has earned its reputation as one of the leading post-secondary institutions in Canada. McMaster continues in its commitment to be Canada's most student-centered research university.