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Music, the food of memory

London, Sept. 20: Music lessons may improve memory and learning ability in young children by promoting different patterns of brain development, a study shows.

After a year of musical training, children aged between four and six performed better at a standard memory test than did children who were not taught music.

Because good scores on the test — which involved listening to a series of numbers and remembering them — were associated with general intelligence skills like literacy and mathematical ability, the findings suggest that music could be useful for building the learning capacity of young minds.

Previous studies have shown that older children given music lessons become better at IQ tests than those who are musically untrained, but this is the first to show a similar benefit in children so young. Professor Laurel Trainor of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, also found clear differences in the way children’s brains responded to sound after a year of musical training.

“This is the first study to show that brain responses in young, musically trained and untrained children change differently over the course of a year,” she said. “These changes are likely to be related to the cognitive benefit that is seen with musical training.”

Professor Trainor’s team looked at 12 children, six of whom had just started extra-curricular music lessons and six of whom were not being taught any music beyond that included as a standard part of their school curriculum.

The music lessons were taught at a Suzuki school, using a Japanese approach that encourages very young children to listen to and imitate music before learning to read it.

“That the children studying music for a year improved in musical listening skills more than children not studying music is perhaps not very surprising,” Trainor said.

“On the other hand, it is very interesting that the children taking music lessons improved more over the year on general memory skills that are correlated with non-musical abilities such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ.

“It is clear that music is good for children’s cognitive development and that music should be part of the pre-school and primary school curriculum,” she added.

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