Playing an instrument
Learning to play musical instruments at early childhood helps improve brain development, researchers say.LifeSupercharger/Flickr

Learning to play musical instruments in early childhood is found to improve brain development.

Researchers said that taking music lessons for long periods brought changes in the structure and function of the brain and influenced the way the brain processed sensory information. The findings are based on three studies presented at the Neuroscience 2013, an annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

In the first study, musical training was associated with a better ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch and sight. Julie Roy from the University of Montreal in Canada and colleagues reached the conclusion after analysing the ability of musicians and non-musicians to respond to sound and touch sensations together, WebMD reported.

The second study conducted by Chinese researchers showed that the age at which a person started learning music is also equally important to get maximum benefit of music for brain development. Learning to play an instrument before seven years of age provided best results. Lead researcher Yunxin Wang from the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning at Beijing Normal University in China and his team based their findings on brain scans of 48 Chinese adults aged between 19 and 21.

In the third study, the Swedish authors, using MRI scan, analysed brain function of 39 pianists while they played keyboard. Ana Pinho, the lead author of the study from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, reported that systematic training helped improve brain areas related to music improvisation. This further helped improve brain connectivity and avoid the necessity to depend more on the working memory.  

Based on the findings, experts at the Society for Neuroscience concluded that undergoing musical training can help promote brain plasticity and hoped that music can be used to treat several types of learning disabilities.

"Playing a musical instrument is a multisensory and motor experience that creates emotions and motions - from finger tapping to dancing - and engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain. It has the potential to change brain function and structure when done over a long period of time," said Dr Gottfried Schlaug, director of the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory at Harvard Medical School. "As today's findings show, intense musical training generates new processes within the brain, at different stages of life, and with a range of impacts on creativity, cognition, and learning."

The findings are backed by countless studies published in the past. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience last year reported that musical training before age seven helped brain development. Children who started taking musical lessons early had better connections between the motor regions or parts of the brain that control movement of a person. 

Research in the past also showed that music can be used to get relief from physical pain, improve health of premature babies, overcome concentration problems associated with ADHD, and prevent age-related hearing loss