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Could learning a musical instrument help boost your child’s brain?

A new study at the University of Vermont says that learning a musical instrument could help boost a child’s brain and the benefits can be seen in their ability to reduce anxiety, to focus and to control their emotions.

The benefits of music in a young person’s life have long been known: kids learn how to express themselves creatively while learning a new skill. But there’s more, according to University of Vermont psychiatry professor Jim Hudziak.

“The longer and the more they played, the greater the benefit,” said Hudziak.

What is the benefit? Better behavior. Hudziak set out to determine if playing an instrument could have a positive impact on a young person’s behavior and it did. His new study concludes that learning an instrument can change what’s called the cortical thickness of a child’s brain, specifically the area that affects their ability to focus, to control emotions and to cope with anxiety.

“In regions associated with the ability to regulate your anxiety, or your emotional response, those regions of the brain need to be organized for you to be able to control those activities. Music training contributed to that in this study,” said Hudziak.

“For instance, with children with ADHD, in the one region of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the cortex is too fluffy, too fat, not organized enough. With music training, the more you trained the more organized, the more thinner that region of the brain became,” said Hudziak.

He looked at data from a National Institutes of Health MRI study on normal brain development. 232 kids between the ages of six and 18 had been imaged three times, each two years apart.

Reporter Bridget Barry Caswell: Were you surprised by the results?

Hudziak: I thought that the attention findings might emerge. I thought there would be motor findings because if you move your arms more your regions of the brain associated with those motor areas would change, but yeah, I was a bit surprised, and in a very happy way because I work with Global Systema, the movement around the world to bring music to disadvantaged children, and was really hopeful that bringing music to kids brings to them some emotional peace.

Hudziak says music could be used as both a preventative and a therapeutic tool. It supports the Vermont Family Based Approach he created, a model that says every aspect of a young person’s environment, including the people they interact with and the activities they’re involved with contributes to their psychological health.

Now, new science supports that. Music to the ears of those focused on kids’ emotional well-being.

Hudziak’s findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Article by By Bridget Barry Caswell, Posted on