James Hudziak, professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, led the study and he told the Washington Post "What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument, it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control."
The study found increased thickness in parts of the brain responsible for executive functioning, which includes working memory, attentional control and organizational skills. In short, music actually helped kids become more well-rounded. Not only that, they believe that musical training could serve as a powerful treatment of cognitive disorders like ADHD. Commenting on the findings, Hudziak said, “Everyone in our culture knows if I lift 5-pound, 10-pound, 15-pound weights, my biceps will get bigger. The same is true for the brain. We shouldn't be surprised we can train the brain.”
Other research has shown that learning music can help children develop time/space faculties, which then aid their ability to solve complex math. It can also help children improve their reading comprehension and verbal abilities. Musically trained children have been shown to have higher grade point averages than children who do not have this benefit. Musical children also tend to be more civically engaged.
This is where our role as parents is critical: we live in a time where educational research continues to show an education gap in our schools, so hard-pressed administrators are often cutting music and arts programs in favor of so-called “core” subjects. But the most recent science shows that these music classes are just what is needed to help children achieve their full potential educationally. We may not be able to alter the economic and societal factors that force schools to reduce music, but we can take a stand for healthy child development by ensuring that our own children receive musical training. Since the brain cortex develops rapidly in the early years, it is never too soon to begin. In my Musikgarten classes I work with children of all ages from newborn to school age. Parents of very young children have noted that their child’s developmental milestones all seem to come on the days that they have been to music class!
And it is never too late to learn either! At the Ocean View School of Music we have a number of students who are in their retirement years; they are enjoying the benefits of musical training in brain health just as much as the children. Even the author of the Vermont study, Professor Hudziak, took up the viola a couple of years ago at the age of 56. It is part of his healthy lifestyle, which also includes good diet and regular exercise. Although he is confident of the psychological benefits, Hudziak is philosophical about the quality of his playing: “It’s horrible!”
Whatever the quality of the actual music making, science has proved that musical training is beneficial to the brain, and to all the developmental functions crucial to success in education and life. Don’t wait - learn today!