Making music is in our genes—and now research shows that it’s a key part of a child’s healthy primal lifestyle. In today’s post, I talk about a new study showing that practicing a musical instrument can boost kids’ brainpower and make them happier.
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Boost Your Child’s Brainpower — With Music
Written by Dr. Kellyann Petrucci
My son, Michael.
Music is primal. Think about it: What did cave people do to entertain themselves? They chanted, played drums made out of rocks or logs, and made flutes out of bone. So music is in our genes—and that’s why it has the power to soothe, calm, and cheer us.
And that’s not all: Music may also have the power to change our brains. New research shows that for children in particular, musical training may be as powerful as drugs in combatting anxiety, attention problems, and mood disorders. So there’s even more reason to resolve to make music a part of your family’s life in the New Year.
A look at the latest findings
Recently, James Hudziak and his team at the University of Vermont analyzed MRI brain scans of 232 children between the ages of 6 and 18. The researchers measured cortical thickness, which changes as the brain matures.
The researchers found that musical training altered the motor areas of the cortex—which is no surprise, since playing music requires coordination. But in addition, the scans showed changes in the behavior-regulating areas of the brain. For instance, in kids who played music, the part of the cortex involved in “executive functioning” was more mature. Executive functioning involves working memory, attention, planning, and organization. In addition, the scans of children with musical training showed more changes related to maturity in brain areas that play a key role in inhibiting impulsive behavior and processing emotions.
In short, the findings suggest that kids who’ve had musical training are less likely to be depressed, “scattered,” or anxious, and more likely to be focused, organized, and in control of their emotions.
Introducing music: The earlier, the better!
Clearly, it’s smart to get your child involved in music at an early age. And luckily, it’s easy, too. Even a toddler can learn about musical rhythms and patterns by playing with maracas, tambourines, or “drums” made out of oatmeal boxes. A five-year-old is old enough to start piano lessons, and older kids can get involved in a school band or chorus.
One note: Your child is more likely to stick with music training if you make it fun. So don’t fret over how well your child plays—and find a teacher who’s very patient and not too strict. That’s especially important if your child is very anxious or has ADHD or other learning problems.
Also, try taking up an instrument yourself… or, if you used to play one, dig it out of the attic and brush up. That way, you can make music a family event. As you master Old MacDonald or Clair de Lune together, you’ll build lifelong memories—and as the new research findings show, playing duets with you is far better for your child’s primal brain than watching another hour of reality TV.
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