Music Boosts Your Brain Power By Literally Altering Its Structure As You Learn New Skills

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Music Boosts Your Brain Power By Literally Altering Its Structure As You Learn New Skills
Photo – Clem Onojeghuo –

There are many activities and lifestyle choices that have neurological benefits and promote overall brain health. One of these is listening to music, which a Scottish study revealed can be beneficial to special kinds of motor rehabilitation programs, such as stroke. The researchers published their findings in the medical journal Brain and Cognition in 2017. [1]

The study involved a team of science and health experts from the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, Clinical Research Imaging Center, the Leiden University, and Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences. They recruited thirty right-handed volunteers for their investigation which divided the participants into two groups: the music group and the control (non-music) group.

The first group used musical cues to learn a new task involving a sequence of finger movements with the non-dominant, left hand. The group did the task without music. They were observed for a month and performed equally well at learning their sequences. However, MRI scans showed that the music group registered an increase in structural connectivity on the right side of the brain while the non-music group remained unaltered.

The researchers discovered more connectivity between regions in the brain that process sound and control. They believe that their findings could serve as a platform for future research into rehabilitation for patients who have lost some degree of movement control such as those who suffered a stroke.

The interdisciplinary project is a breakthrough in brain research for opening doors to the role of musical cues in learning a new motor task and its link to changes in white structure in the brain. Larger studies could explore the positive impact of music on motor rehabilitation programs such as post-stroke care.

Music’s potential in physical rehabilitation is a growing area of research in neuroscience. Advances in neuroscience have enabled researchers to quantitatively measure the influence of music on the brain. A collaborative study carried out by the Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy at New York University Steinhardt and the Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU highlights the value of undergoing music therapy to the recovery of stroke patients. [2]

The clinicians and researchers involved in the study explored the physical, psychological, and social domains of stroke rehabilitation. According to the study’s senior author, Alan Tury, music has a powerful impact on spontaneous movement. He also underscores the engagement effect provided by interactive music-making to individuals.

The NYU study used stroke survivors who participated in a 45-minute intervention twice a week for almost two months. The study’s subjects were engaged in instrument playing during the intervention. The researchers observed improvements in the participant’s sensory impairment, activity limitation, and overall well-being.

Back in 2011, a South Korean study confirmed the positive effect of music therapy on the mood of post-stroke patients. The study posited the contribution provided by music therapy to the improvement in the daily living functions and functional level of the patients. [3]

The Scottish, NYU and South Korean studies stress the need to develop a music-based intervention that will integrate the benefits of music therapy into a defined measure for stroke rehabilitation. [4] The intervention could harness the benefits of auditory-motor coupling and instrumental improvisation and group singing. [5]


Playing A Musical Instrument Can Protect Brain Health


[1] Emma Moore, Rebecca S. Schaefer, Mark E. Bastin, Neil Roberts, Katie Overy. Diffusion tensor MRI tractography reveals increased fractional anisotropy (FA) in arcuate fasciculus following music-cued motor training. Brain and Cognition, 2017; 116: 40 DOI: 10.1016/j.bandc.2017.05.001.

[2] Raghavan P et al. October 7, 2016. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Music Upper Limb Therapy—Integrated: An Enriched Collaborative Approach for Stroke Rehabilitation.

[3] Kim DS et al. November 1, 2011. Yonsei Medical Journal. Effects of Music Therapy on Mood in Stroke Patients.

[4] Thaut MH et al. September 2007. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair. Rhythmic auditory stimulation improves gait more than NDT/Bobath training in near-ambulatory patients early poststroke: a single-blind, randomized trial.

[5] Magee WL et al. January 2009. British Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. The Use of Music Therapy in Neuro-Rehabilitation of People with Acquired Brain Injury.

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