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Students' active engagement in music classes leads to brain gains, study finds

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91765 full

Brain researchers are finding increasing evidence that music is a powerful learning tool.

A new study out Tuesday concludes students highly engaged in music classes boosted their reading scores and speech processing skills.

“Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain,” according to Nina Kraus, who heads the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University.

RELATED: Music and your brain – the science of change

Kraus is the lead author on the study that stems from a multi-year research effort with the Los Angeles music education nonprofit Harmony Project. The study is published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The results show the method used to study music can play a big role in gains in brain functioning. For example, Kraus found playing an instrument improved neural processing. Kids who simply took classes that focused on music appreciation without practice time with instruments didn't show the same level of improvement.

Committed class attendance and strong participation skills also led to greater brain gains for students, according to the study.

In previous research work with Harmony Project, Kraus found evidence that music education can reshape the way children's brains process sound.

"It was the first direct evidence that the music training has a biological effect on children's developing nervous systems," according to a release from Kraus' lab. 

More information on Kraus' research is available on her website.

Kraus also will join a KPCC panel on Jan. 25 in the station's Crawford Family Forum for a discussion on music and the brain and a performance by the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra. The event is free and reservations can be made here.

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