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New study demonstrates link between music and statistical learning

Sidney Bertram first tried playing drums as a five year old. He turned to piano at six and last year he picked up his father’s trumpet and played that.

However, when asked to name his favorite instrument, the 10-year-old hardly hesitates.

Sidney Bertram, 10, has played the trumpet for about a year.
Sidney Bertram, 10, has played the trumpet for about a year. Photo: Jesse Marlow

“Piano,” he says. “I find it a lot easier to memorize my pieces for piano.”

With his first year exam coming quickly, his weekly music lessons have begun to focus on the piece he will play. He also practices his sight reading and scales six days a week.

trumpet - one of three instruments he can play.
Ten-year-old Sidney Bertram playing his Dad’s trumpet – one of three instruments he can play. Photo: Jesse Marlow

“Sometimes practice is good and sometimes it’s annoying,” he admits, though there is no doubt he enjoys playing a musical instrument.

His mum, Marika Neustupny, says Sidney wanted to have music lessons like his older brother.

Marika admits they are a musical family. She learned to play the cello growing up and her husband Nigel took trumpet lessons as a child.

“There are a lot of advantages to learning a musical instrument,” she says. “You’re making a concrete outcome in the sound but then there is an emotional response to that sound and you also have to understand the technique and notation to achieve the sound.”

statistical patterns in sound and visual cues.
Music has been found to help children identify statistical patterns in sound and visual cues. Photo: Christopher Furlong

It’s no secret that learning music is good for the brain. A new study has looked at the effects of learning music in childhood on auditory and visual skills.

“This is the first study to evaluate auditory and visual learning in the same group of people,” said Macquarie University auditory cognitive neuroscientist Pragati Mandikal-Vasuki.

The results showed that children exposed to at least a year and a half of private music lessons have an edge when it comes to detecting patterns in the world around us, with musical instrument training making their brains better at statistical learning.

“This is a key building block of learning a language, learning to read and also learning a second language,” Dr Mandikal-Vasuki said. “It’s a fundamental ability.”

The results outlined in the journal Clinical Neurophysiology suggests that music-based therapies could potentially be used to treat specific learning impairments.

Dr Mandikal-Vasuki said the study showed music training boosted a child’s ability to spot statistical patterns in sound cues, enabling them to predict what would happen next.

Two groups of 25 children aged 9-11 participated in the study. One group was made up of students who had undertaken private music lessons for at least 18 months, while the other group of 25 hadn’t had any private music lessons.

Behavioural testing revealed children who had had some musical training had better melody, rhythm and frequency discrimination. This was confirmed with EEG scans, which measure brain activity. These scans showed the musically trained children were faster to detect patterns in auditory and visual tasks than their peers without musical training.

“We were surprised with the brain activity results especially because they revealed that as little as a year-and-a-half of music training made a difference,” Dr Mandikal-Vasuki said.

by Bridie Smith
Originally published on

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