Does music make you smarter?
Does music make you smarter? Alexis Rodolico plays the violin in a bunny suit during Easter celebrations in New York (Reuters)
Does music make you smarter?
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The founder of an organization that provides free music lessons to low-income students from gang-ridden neighborhoods has noticed a hopeful sign. The kids were graduating high school and heading off to some big universities.

That's when Margaret Martin asked how the children in the Harmony Project in Los Angeles were beating the odds.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois believe that the students' music training played a role in their educational achievement. Martin noticed 90 percent of them graduate from high school. Overall, 50 percent or more from those same neighborhoods did not graduate.

A two-year study of 44 children in the program shows that the training changes the brain. It makes it easier for youngsters to process sounds, according to results reported in The Journal of Neuroscience. That increased ability, the researchers say, is linked directly to improved skills in such subjects as reading and speech.

But there is one catch. People have to actually play an instrument to get smarter. They can't just crank up the tunes on their iPod.

Nina Kraus, the director of Northwestern's auditory neuroscience laboratory, compared the difference to that of building up one's body through exercise. "I like to say to people: You're not going to get physically fit just watching sports," she said.

The latest findings are striking a chord with supporters of such programs. They say music is frequently the first cut for school boards looking to save money.

April Benasich, a professor of neuroscience at Rutgers University in New Jersey who was not involved in the study, said previous research by Kraus has demonstrated the value of music is improving concentration, memory and focus in children.

So Margaret Martin approached the National Institutes of Health. She wanted to learn if there was a connection between music and the educational achievements of the program's 2,000 students. The NIH put her in touch with Kraus. She studies the changes in the brain that occur through auditory exposure. Many of Harmony Project's students have no interest in pursuing professional music careers, Martin said.

Ricardo Torriz, 13, wants to be an engineer. He took up the trumpet and is learning salsa, jazz and classical music. "I wanted to take up the trumpet so I could play in a band like my dad," he said.

Researchers studied the students over two years, attaching scalp electrodes to monitor changes in their brains. Test subjects were selected at random from those on a waiting list to enter the program. That hopefully ensured that all test subjects would be equally motivated to work hard.

One of the researchers' key findings was that one year of musical training didn't make a difference in brain changes. Two years did.

At the Harmony Project one afternoon last week, the building quickly began to fill with sounds of clarinets, trombones, oboes and other wind instruments as players warmed up. At an adjacent building, cellos were being tuned.

Adelina Flores, whose 11-year-old daughter, America, was a test subject, said she wasn't surprised by the results. Her daughter had already told her she was getting better at math. Playing music, she said, had taught her to divide notes into fractions and count them out in measures.

"She's improved a lot through this," Adelina Flores said, adding, "And she's grown to be more confident, too."

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  • keatenw-Win
    9/08/2014 - 11:47 a.m.

    I think reading makes you better at school because it maybe relaxes you. Music probably makes you concentrate .My opinion is it makes you smarter .It lets you go with the flow.IT makes you have rhythm for your answers. Music is a good way to do your school work alone

  • hunterw-Win
    9/08/2014 - 11:48 a.m.

    I say music does make you smarter because it even said it in the story it make you smarter all you have to do is play music and play music and you can learn to play music and get some smartest in that brain.

  • justinq-Win
    9/08/2014 - 11:51 a.m.

    it was looks like music really can help.And I might do it sometime because it looks like it helps.And it was a good book.

  • samk-Win
    9/08/2014 - 11:52 a.m.

    I think that music does help in you're school career because you are doing a bit of math and reading. Well you're doing lessons kid of notes and in the book she said that you can learn to divide the notes into fractions,And you're reading a knew kind of section of that subject will maybe help you in other subjects.

  • graceg-Win
    9/08/2014 - 12:05 p.m.

    I think that the way they are learning and growing from music is really cool. I never thought playing an instrument could make you smarter. My dad told me that he got C's and D's in school until he learned to play guitar. And now I know why.

  • spencera-Win
    9/08/2014 - 01:11 p.m.

    That is awesome I should tell my brother to play an instrument. I agree that an ipod would not help. That is a problem people would run into they don't read and the think " well I can just listen to my ipod."

  • allisonm-Win
    9/08/2014 - 01:18 p.m.

    About the music learning that is vary strange. I think that it is a great way to learn. I think that is vary cool. I would have never know it would help you with math. I would love to know how to play something. Allison Mcmillan

  • garrettgreen-Win
    9/08/2014 - 01:21 p.m.

    music can help but not always because some of my friends do music and their getting smarter because their lessoning to the teacher and study.

  • taylorw-Win
    9/08/2014 - 01:23 p.m.

    I did not know music makes you smarter, this is very cool! As I read I saw if you can play an instrument for 2 years, it can improve your ability to think. So if you really work on playing an instrument by the end of 2 years you will get an advantage off of it. What I think is cool is that if you really work and push yourself you can accomplish great things. This was a great learning experience to find out for me.

    -Taylor Wise <3

  • katyp-Win
    9/08/2014 - 01:26 p.m.

    Music maybe be the source, but it may be just the time over the years that made them smarter. Maybe it was the music, like the kid who learned to divide the notes and make them fractions. Or maybe they were already getting better. I don't know if music helps or not. It just doesn't make sense. How can music make you smarter? But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's right.

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