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Learning a musical instrument is good for the brain

Learning a musical instrument can help improve attention and memory, according to a new study.

A team led by Dr Leonie Kausel, a violinist and neuroscientist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and the Universidad del Desarrollo Chile, conducted a study and found that musically trained children perform better on attention and memory recall exercises.

They also found that they have greater activation in brain regions related to attention control and auditory encoding, executive functions known to be associated with improved reading, higher resilience, greater creativity, and a better quality of life.

The researchers made their findings by testing the attention and working memory of 40 Chilean children between 10-13 years of age. Twenty of them played an instrument frequently in an orchestra or ensemble and the other twenty had no musical training other than the school curriculum. Their attention and memory were assessed and their brain activity monitored during a task.

They found that there was no difference between the two groups in terms of reaction time, but musically trained children did significantly better on the memory task.

When asked if the findings mean parents should sign their kids up for classes, Kausel said, “Of course, I would recommend that. However, I think parents should not only enroll their children because they expect that this will help them boost their cognitive functions, but because it is also an activity that, even when very demanding, will provide them with joy and the possibility to learn a universal language.”

Kausel and his team already have a plans for the next step of their investigation.

“The next step of the project is to establish the causality of the mechanisms we found for improving attention and working memory,” he explained. “We also aim to make a longitudinal study on musical training with children, evaluating attention and working memory, and the possibility to evaluate a musical training intervention on ADHD children.”

The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

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