Greater speech and reading abilities
Reading, understanding and speaking a language requires the ability to identify where syllables and words begin and end. This skill is called phonological ability, and uses the same areas of the brain used to identify and break up sounds. Studies have shown that musically-trained children have better phonological skills, which can help them to learn words faster, develop a richer vocabulary, and learn to read sooner.
Sharpened memory and focus
Working memory is the type of memory that allows us to remember things even while our minds are busy with other matters – crucial for such essential tasks as mental arithmetic and reading comprehension. Current research indicates that individuals who are musically trained show better working memory abilities than those who are not. Learning to play an instrument or sing also requires significant levels of attention and concentration, and there is evidence that children who take music lessons develop greater abilities to focus their attention.
A 2001 study found a marked difference in inter-hemispheric communication (communication between the right and left sides of the brain) in individuals with musical training versus those without musical training. Scientists involved in this area of study believe the greater connectivity between brain regions may help foster increased creativity.
Increased capacity to cooperate and sympathize
Taking group lessons can help children develop empathy and helpfulness. Research has shown that collaborative musical activities can increase toddlers’ pro-social behaviours, making them more likely to help someone in need. Playing music also improves a child’s ability to listen and pick up nuances of speech – the way something is said and the emotions underneath the words, not just the words themselves, which is a key element of empathy and emotional intelligence.
Lifelong health and resilience
Scientific research is starting to emerge showing that life-long music training can offer improved cognitive function as we age, demonstrating that music education is beneficial at every age. The strong parallels between music and speech, as well as the inherent enjoyment of music, make it a useful and flexible rehabilitative technique for conditions such as the aftermath of a stroke.