It has been well-established that pre-pubescent children who have undergone musical training show a variety of skills that children without this type of training do not.

One example of this is the child’s ability to learn a second language; they are more likely to find it easier learning languages than children without musical training.

One of the suggested reasons for this has been that children that have undergone musical training are better able to distinguish pitch and tone, which would make sense since that in most forms of musical training you need to be able to distinguish the pitch and tones of sounds to progress.

There is little doubt that the effect of music on the brain is very significant indeed.


After early childhood it has been found that learning a second language becomes more difficult, which is at least partly attributed to a general decrease in audio sensitivity with increasing age.

A recent study by researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois, has delved into the mental effects if you subject pubescent young-adults to musical training and the results are interesting.

The researchers followed students through four years of high-school, in which approximately half the students took part in a structured musical training program for their optional weekly activity and the other half chose to join the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC).

They found that the children who had taken part in the musical training had a slight increase in phonology (which is the difference in sounds used in language) when compared with the students who did not take part in such training (both groups improved, but the musical training group improved more).

effect of music on the brain_2

This could mean that musical training during adolescence could kick start neurological development.

This is also important as people who have had musical training have been known to have higher IQs and some have suggested that musical training can improve IQ, especially in early life. The results of this study suggest that this theory could also be applied to adolescents.

It is difficult to come to concrete conclusions with this study, as it was done in a localised area (at one high school in the US) and the number of students that were studied was low; they only studied one class through three years. It does, however, show that there could be interesting results in future research in this area, to see further what the effects of musical training are in adolescents. This could be done with larger groups of adolescents in more locations.

One thing that has been shown to happen in adolescence and beyond is the brain becomes less able to adapt and learn things quickly (the study calls this the ‘plasticity’), which we have all probably felt as we have gotten older (or if you’re young, you will feel it at some point). This study hints, however, that this decline in plasticity may slow down with the introduction of musical training.

So what does this mean?

It means that, although there is a so called ‘golden window’, where children are able to learn things very quickly indeed and then have the learned skills later in life (the window itself is around 5-9yrs old, but has been heavily debated), being older than ‘ideal’ may not necessarily mean that the acquired skills won’t potentially help in later life.

Reference 1:  Musical Training Can Accelerate Brain Development And Help With Literacy Skills


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