Music training, it turns out, leaves kids' brains on a high note, improving skills in reading and speech, according to a study published in the latest edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.
The study, which observed 44 children over a two-year period, concluded that music training "changes the brain in ways that make it easier for youngsters to process sounds," the Associated Press reports. That, in turn, helps children learn academic subjects, particularly reading.
However, it's not just listening that improves those skills. Kids actually have to play an instrument to reap the effects, the AP reports.
"I like to say to people: You're not going to get physically fit just watching sports," Nina Kraus, the study's lead researcher and director of Northwestern University's auditory neuroscience lab, says.
These results tie in with the experience of Margaret Martin, founder of Los Angeles-based nonprofit the Harmony Project, which offers free music lessons to low-income students.
Martin noticed that 90 percent of the kids that were given music lessons through the Harmony Project graduated from high school, compared with the 50 percent graduation rate typical of the neighborhoods she served.
The researchers from Northwestern in Illinois chose test subjects randomly who were on the waitlist for the Harmony Project. They then attached scalp electrodes to monitor changes in their brains, according to the AP.
What they found was that it was two years — not just one — that made a difference in kids' brain activity.
"We know that a fundamental characteristic of the nervous system is our ability to change as we age, as we interact with our environment," Kraus told the AP. "But we can't be changing every second or you'd have a very unstable system."