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Can music classes help poor children achieve better grades?

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Posted January 2, 2015

Active attendance of music classes has a positive influence for language development of young people coming from poor families. Moreover, these advances are paralleled by gains at the neural level. “Children who attended class more regularly and had better classroom participation had stronger neural encoding of speech after 2 years of music training than did their less-engaged peers,” authors of the study published on the Frontiers in Psychology report.

Picture: Music Class. Image credit: h2r via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Picture: Music Class. Image credit: h2r via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Nina Kraus and her colleagues at Nothwestern University investigated what is effect of music classes offered for youth coming from socially disadvantaged neighborhoods. They have analyzed participants in Harmony project which was inspired by the long-lasting popularity of such program in Venezuela called El Sistema.

“Harmony Project (Los Angeles, CA, USA) similarly promotes the development of healthy children and communities by providing free music training to children from low SES backgrounds in gang-reduction zones of Los Angeles, CA, USA,” the researchers explain. Interestingly participants in this program have higher chances to continue their education after secondary school.  American psychologists observed development of twenty six kids from problematic social environments for two years.

“Children who were more engaged in the music program—as defined by better attendance and classroom participation—developed stronger brain encoding of speech after 2 years than their less-engaged peers in the program,” the scholars write. They also observed those students who attended more classes developed better reading skills.

It might be suspected that better developed brains correlate with higher attendance rates. However, this conjecture is not supported by data. “This suggests that children with the strongest neural function before beginning musical practice did not go on to be those most engaged in music classes. Instead, it appears that greater engagement in music may have resulted in stronger neural encoding,” the scientists say.

These findings provide additional evidence that such community interventions as Harmony Project can help to neutralize   negative impact of unfriendly social environment.

Article: Kraus N. et al., 2014, Engagement in community music classes sparks neuroplasticity and language development in children from disadvantaged back grounds, Frontiers in Psychology. Source link.

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