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Stanford Medicine

Neuroscience, Parenting, Pediatrics

Can musical training help close the achievement gap between high and low-income children?

Can musical training help close the achievement gap between high and low-income children?

scope Music and kids

Drawing data from hundreds of students from low-income urban communities, a recent study offers new insights into understanding the academic gap between children from varying socioeconomic backgrounds and demonstrates the impact of musical training in helping low-income youth improve their language and reading comprehension skills.

The research (.pdf) was presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention and involved elementary and high school-aged students who participated in two separate projects measuring neural responses along with language and cognitive evaluations over a two-year period. Younger participants were part of Los Angeles-based nonprofit Harmony Project and older subjects attended three public high schools in Chicago. As explained in a press release:

[Researchers] studied children beginning when they were in first and second grade. Half participated in musical training and the other half were randomly selected from the program’s lengthy waiting list and received no musical training during the first year of the study. Children who had no musical training had diminished reading scores while Harmony Project participants’ reading scores remained unchanged over the same time span.

Over two years, half of the [Chicago] students participated in either band or choir during each school day while the other half were enrolled in Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps classes, which teaches character education, achievement, wellness, leadership and diversity. All participants had comparable reading ability and IQs at the start of the study. The researchers recorded the children’s brain waves as they listened to a repeated syllable against soft background sound, which made it harder for the brain to process. The researchers repeated measures after one year and again at the two-year mark. They found music students’ neural responses had strengthened while the JROTC students’ responses had remained the same. Interestingly, the differences in the music students’ brain waves in response to sounds as described above occurred after two years but not at one year, which showed that these programs cannot be used as quick fixes, [Northwestern neurobiologist Nina Kraus, PhD] said. This is the strongest evidence to date that public school music education in lower-income students can lead to better sound processing in the brain when compared to other types of enrichment education, she added.

“Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn,” Kraus further explained in the release. “While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap.”

Jen Baxter is a freelance writer and photographer. After spending eight years working for Kaiser Permanente Health plan she took a self-imposed sabbatical to travel around South East Asia and become a blogger. She enjoys writing about nutrition, meditation, and mental health, and finding personal stories that inspire people to take responsibility for their own well-being. Her website and blog can be found at www.jenbaxter.com.

Previously: Pump up the bass, not the volume, to feel more powerful, Denver rappers’ music motivates kids (of all ages) to eat better and Brains of different people listening to the same piece of music actually respond in the same way.
Photo By: CherryPoint

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