We know that music, particularly musical training can improve the functioning of the brain. But the precise reasons behind this are less known. Now a new study, published in Frontiers of Neuroscience shows how the underlying brain network works when we learn to play an instrument. The study also revealed new evidence on the effectiveness of musical training in improving the executive functioning of our brain, specifically attention and working memory (WM).
To understand how playing an instrument affected the functioning of the brain, neuroscientists from Chile enrolled 40 boys and girls, aged 10-13 for their study. The participants were equally divided into children with and without prior musical training. 20 of the participants could play an instrument, had taken at least 2 years of music lessons, and practiced at least 2 hrs a week. They regularly played in an orchestra or an ensemble. The other 20 children who formed the control group had had no prior musical training or practice other than their school curriculum.
Both the groups were asked to complete attention and WM tasks and their brain activity was measured with a functional MRI or fMRI. Both groups showed high performance. But the musicians’ group showed consistently better performance on both attention and working memory. The musicians also showed better performance in cognitive control regions. The team found a positive correlation between years of training and higher activity in certain areas of the brain that support the phonological loop (working memory that deals with auditory information). Simply put, there was no marked difference between the two groups when it came to reaction time. But the musical group showed a significantly better performance in memory tasks.