Past research has shown that children who play a musical instrument can increase their auditory skills. New analysis is suggesting that childhood music lessons may bring about positive brain changes that persist years after the lessons have ended. These studies are looking at the connections between childhood musical training and language-based learning. “To learn to read, you need to have a good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections. Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument,” said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University.  Many of the researchers in the field are also musicians, and personally believe that the positive elements a musical education can provide, including stimulation, practice and auditory exercise have long-term benefits.  However, they also caution there is not a specific or best way to apply these findings – there are lots of instruments and teaching methods out there.  It’s more about finding out what the child might be interested in – so they can enjoy the experience.  The parents need to care about the music as well – and not to view it as a “therapeutic tool” in the child’s experiences.  Alexandra Parbery-Clark, a doctoral candidate in Dr.Kraus’s lab summed it up this way, “We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life – not necessarily, oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music. Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social – let them enjoy it for what it really is.”     NY Times   9/11/12

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