Learning to play a musical instrument wires child’s brain for all education

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We should be adding music to school curriculum, not eliminating it.

As a 7-year-old pianist, I experienced the joy of learning Beethoven’s “Für Elise.” My eyes deciphered the notes on the page, my ears guided me to depress the right keys, and my fingers translated the symbols on the page with the right speed, rhythm and expression. The benefit in my mind was the pleasure of making music. What I didn’t know was that I was wiring my brain for classroom learning.

Yet in the years since music fed my young mind and laid the groundwork for further intellectual growth, the country has steadily moved away from music instruction. Too many schoolchildren are learning without this effective discipline. Instead, the noisy national debates bounce from one “fix” to the next, whether No Child Left Behind or Common Core. Left on the cutting-room floor are music lessons — yes, music — that new research shows is essential for brain development.

Playing a musical instrument develops an important neurocognitive skill known as executive function. Strong EF is critical for the brain to operate in school and in life. Focusing on a topic, memorizing information, inhibition, cognitive flexibility and paying attention to multiple ideas simultaneously are examples of it. It is at the heart of all learning.

Acquiring these skills starts in early childhood and is crucial for healthy brain development through early adulthood. In fact, recent studies from the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s Hospital indicate that EF is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ.

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