I have recently started taking piano lessons again after many years and am having a wonderful time. While I have continued to sing and to play guitar but the piano is different. It is reminding me of how important music is to brain development. The Brain Volts Lab at Northwestern run by the brilliant clinician Nina Kraus has done a lot of research about music and the brain and hearing loss. There are three reasons (at least) for teaching music in schools or outside. Research has shown that music boosts brain and cognitive function which is important for learning.
There is research which shows the benefits of music training to education outcomes including to graduation rates. Isn’t that impressive? In addition there is some evidence that music education can result in building lasting friendships.
Harmony Project in Los Angeles is a project that has been providing music lessons to children from underserved areas for many years. Children had to maintain passing grades and agree to practice. The Director, Margaret Martin, saw that children in the program were doing better in school and wanted some help with research to understand if in fact the music was responsible.
Dr. Kraus and the Brain Volts group helped and amazingly they got the results reported above.
Recent information about playing the piano has reported on the benefits of piano lessons. Playing with two hands with different music in each hand requires reading two lines of music at the same time and assuring that hands are hitting the correct notes. The advantage to brain development is clear.
So what about music and children with hearing loss?
Children with hearing loss will benefit from learning music as well as children with typical hearing. I have had many children with hearing loss study music. Some have played piano, others violin, trumpet, and many sang.
We spend lots of times teaching language skills to build brains of children with hearing loss. We should recognize that music will be just as beneficial for children with hearing loss as for children with typical hearing.
In therapy we use music to teach language, vocabulary, rhythm and to build the brain. Music should be part of every child’s development including that of children with hearing loss. If parents sing to their young children it is a good way for it to start. Beginning instruments (drums, triangles, shakers etc.) are a good way to start. A toy piano is a good way to pick out familiar tunes and then to move on to real instruments.
Everyone needs music. Please make sure that we give every child the opportunity to learn music. It has many advantages in brain development and every child deserves it.