Dr. Nina Kraus, professor of communication sciences, neurobiology, and physiology, and the director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, has been studying the impact of music training on a child's cognitive development for almost a decade. Her extensive research has been published in more than 200 journals and media publications.
Defining a musician as someone who plays music twice a week for 20 minutes, she and her team compare how the brains of musicians and non-musicians respond to sound and the impact music playing has on the musician's attention, language, memory and reading abilities.
"The same biological ingredients that are important for reading are those that are strengthened through playing a musical instrument," said Kraus. "The ability to categorize sounds, to pull out important sounds from background noise, to respond consistently to the sounds in one's environment ... these are all ingredients that are important for learning, for auditory learning, for reading, (and) for listening in classrooms."
Her findings, she said, have a clear message for policymakers and parents.
"It's not just about your child becoming a violinist," said Kraus, a mother of three whose children all played an instrument growing up. "It's about setting up your child to be a more effective learner for all kinds of things."
And the benefits continue even after a child stops playing, says Kraus.
"The brain continues to profit long after the music lessons have stopped," she said.
If my girls weren't already signed up for music lessons this fall (we're starting with piano!), I'd be signing them up today.