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Music lessons DO pay off: How learning to play an instrument can boost your brainpower

Musical training in before you are fourteen can boost your brainpower significantly in later life, a major new study has found.

Researchers found older adults who had musical training in their youth were 20% faster in identifying speech sounds than their non-musician peers.

Researchers say this can make a major difference as we grow older.

According to a new Canadian study led by the Rotman Research Institute (RRI) at Baycrest Health Sciences, starting formal lessons on a musical instrument prior to age 14 and continuing intense training for up to a decade appears to enhance key areas in the brain that support speech recognition.

The findings are published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

‘Musical activities are an engaging form of cognitive brain training and we are now seeing robust evidence of brain plasticity from musical training not just in younger brains, but in older brains too,’ said Gavin Bidelman, who led the study as a post-doctoral fellow at the RRI and is now an assistant professor at the University of Memphis.

In our study we were able to predict how well older people classify or identify speech using EEG imaging.

‘We saw a brain-behaviour response that was two to three times better in the older musicians compared to non-musicians peers.

‘In other words, old musicians’ brains provide a much more detailed, clean and accurate depiction of the speech signal, which is likely why they are much more sensitive and better at understanding speech.’

The latest findings add to mounting evidence that musical training not only gives young developing brains a cognitive boost, but those neural enhancements extend across the lifespan into old age when the brain needs it most to counteract cognitive decline.

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