Music Training May Enhance Teen Brain Development

Joining the school band just got cool. 

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Know any teens who think they’re too cool to join the school band? Playing an instrument may seem "geeky" to a reputation-conscious teenager, but it’s certainly better for the brain than playing football.

According to a new study from Northwestern University, teens who receive music training are prone to more rapid brain maturation and development than their less jazzy peers. 

NU researchers tracked 40 Chicago high schoolers from freshman year to the beginning of senior year. Half of the students joined the junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and the other half chose the band route, logging up to three hours of in-school group music instruction per week.

Electrode recordings, in which scientists monitor neural electrical activity, conducted at the beginning and end of the study demonstrated that ROTC members may have become more fit over the three-year span of research, but bandos took the lead in brain gains. While both groups’ language skills spiked, students in music classes slightly out-improved their more physically active counterparts. They also experienced an enhanced ability to respond to and process sound details.

Nina Kraus, lead study author and head of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, explained the importance of using diverse forms of enrichment, such as music training, as a way to capitalize on the receptivity of the still-developing teen brain.

 “Although learning to play music does not teach skills that seem directly relevant to most careers, the results suggest that music may engender what educators refer to as ‘learning to learn.’ While music programs are often the first to be cut when the school budget is tight, these results highlight music’s place in the high school curriculum.”

Need more of a reason to encourage teens to join the school band? Check out this explanation of one of the many awesome brain benefits of playing an instrument