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Music lessons and kids: power from lesson one

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10 2013 6:55 p.m. MST

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Her daughter's alarm clock going off at 5:30 a.m., followed shortly by the plinking of piano keys, are the sounds Amy McLaughlin wakes up to in her Houston home.

Sometimes — if 8-year-old Abigail gets up before 10-year-old Emily — the thrums of a violin will be the first to drift through the house, instead.

"The rule is whoever gets out of bed first," McLaughlin said. "We try to get both done in the morning — they like it much better that way. When we are in that routine, we are so much better with it."

Emily and Abigail, the oldest of five children, have both been studying their respective instruments for three years. McLaughlin plans on starting her 6-year-old with music lessons soon.

"I grew up in a home with music. It was something we all did," she said. "What my mom used to say was, 'We don't own a farm, so this is the way to learn to work,' and it's so much work. It's a real refining influence on the kids. They learn to work hard and to have discipline."

For many children, music lessons are one of the blights of childhood. An hour of piano practice a day? Not a chance. However, no matter how difficult it may be for a child to sit down and focus part of their day on learning theory and playing or singing something correctly, research has proved even just one year of musical lessons or involvement leads to better learning and listening skills. Music immersion can have lasting effects that spread even into late adulthood, especially with brain and even social development.

There are many reasons McLaughlin wants her children to receive a musical education, including for personal development throughout life, and not just high performance expectations.

"They don't have to be concert pianists," McLaughlin said. "I want them to be able to perform well and show people their talents."

The key to the keys

Music lessons impact every person differently. Various life skills can be obtained through consistent training and practice, something McLaughlin has already seen with each of her daughters' independent musical training.

The most prominent trait to be amplified has been confidence, she noted. Both of her daughters are more visibly confident, even outside of their music training and each continues to build on other life skills. Abigail's observation skills seem to have improved with violin training, according to her mother.

"My oldest likes to go through and get to the end, but we work on her approach before she goes through a piece," McLaughlin said of Emily. "This is a great way to teach her the processes of learning to come up with a solution. She's learned to have a process for problem solving. I hope as she grows she can use that, because her music has provided an opportunity with that."

Reading, memory, listening, comprehension of sounds and more amplified abilities were found in those who had been actively engaged in musical training at some time in their lives, according to a study done at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Ultimately, the research found that "brain stem response was more robust in adults with musical training compared with those with no past instrumental training," as the participants listened to recordings of complex sounds. The amount of training did not make any difference in responses, though how recent the training was did make an impact.

The purpose of the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience in August of 2012, was to see if even just a few years of training made a difference in development of the brain. When it came to picking out essential elements of sound and even those skills needed for reading, most any training helps.

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