Does learning how to play a musical instrument have any effect on the brain?
Brain scanning technologies have permitted neuroscientists to test ideas about the link between music and intelligence.
If you examine the brain of a keyboard player, you’ll find that the region of the brain that controls finger movements is larger than the same region in a non-player (Pascual-Leone 2001).
Brain scans of 9- to 11-year old children have revealed that children who play musical instruments have significantly more grey matter volume in both the sensorimotor cortex and the occipital lobes. Musicians in general, have significantly more grey matter in several brain regions. It’s not simply that people with more grey matter volume are more likely to become musicians. Research suggests that the brains of non-musicians change in response to musical training.
In one study, non-musicians were assigned to perform a 5-finger exercise on the piano for two hours a day. Within five days, subjects showed evidence of “re-wiring”. The size of the area associated with finger movements had become larger and more active (Pascual-Leone 2001).
It is definitely reasonable to assume that the brain grows in response to musical training.
In the study of 9 to 11-year olds, musicians performed better on several tests than did their non-musical peers. They scored significantly higher on tests of vocabulary and finger tapping. They also exhibited a strong, but statistically non-significant, trend towards better spatial and math skills (Schlaug 2005).
So… How do you decide which instrument is best suited for the child in question?
Following are some instruments that have been analyzed according to children and behaviors:
Temperament: A well-behaved child will do well. This is not an instrument for a hyperactive child. The violin is a complicated and challenging instrument. A young violinist needs to be able to relate well to adults and to learn to accept help from teachers and parents. With violinists, there is a lot of competition about who gets to play the top part in a group.
Physique: A child who likes dancing will probably enjoy playing the violin. The instrument transmits a lot of vibration to the chin and shoulder. Some children like this, while some hate it. A good sense of balance, as the playing position is a challenge for young children.
Mind Power: Playing the violin is complicated and needs a lot of perseverance. Very bright children, who learn easily, are likely to become frustrated by the amount of repetitive practice needed.
Transport: Small and light.
Temperament: The same as the violin. However, a violist likes to be in the middle of the group and generally enjoys a more holistic feel for music.
Physique: The same as the violin. Small violas are no bigger than violins. Older violists need more physical strength, long fingers and flexible hands to cope with larger instruments. Children with a lower voice are often drawn to the viola.
Mind Power: The same as the violin.
Transport: Small and light.
Temperament: Some children just fall in love with the cello’s beautiful singing voice. Like other string players, cellists need to be able to relate well to adults.
Physique: An adequate sense of pitch is useful. Cellists often come with big hands, long arms and lower voices. A child with a big chest cavity will enjoy the resonance of the cello. This instrument requires a certain amount of strength, not only to play but also to carry.
Mind Power: The cello suits a quiet, shy, deeply thinking child.
Transport: You will have to be the cello slave till your child gets strong enough.
Temperament: A supportive child who likes rhythm will enjoy the double bass. Not many small children are drawn to its low gentle sound.
Physique: It is really helpful for a young bassist to be physically big and strong.
Mind Power: There is a repertoire of virtuoso music… the bass is simpler to play than the cello.
Transport: Big and heavy. A child will need a double bass slave for years to come.
Temperament: Children who like gathering and cuddling things close to themselves will enjoy the guitar.
Physique: A child who is well coordinated, with nimble fingers and enjoys arts and crafts should do well
Mind Power: Having a good head for numbers helps as does being naturally conscientious and methodical.
Transport: Children seem to find it cool to carry their own guitar case.
Temperament: Your child will just know that this is his or her instrument.
Physique: A parent will need the strong physique and a larger vehicle in order to transport it.
Mind Power: Understanding 46 strings and 8 pedals, requires intelligence, focus and dedication.
Transport: Big, heavy and awkward. A child will need strong and dedicated harp slave for years to come.
Temperament: This is not an instrument initially designed for social children… playing the piano is rather a solitary activity. A loner who relates well to adults will do well.
Physique: The piano doesn’t require too much energy and would suit a delicate child
Mind Power: A child who does well at school, is good at figuring things and has plenty of mental energy will find the piano easy to learn.
Temperament: Like the piano and harp, this is an instrument for a child who is a bit of a loner. It would suit a child who needs to feel more powerful but who hasn’t found a way.
Physique: The player will develop excellent coordination and powerful core muscles from balancing on the bench and using all 4 limbs at once.
Mind Power: The same as the piano.
Transport: Not unless you are moving a small keyboard.
Temperament: Shy, quiet and sociable, not dominant or aggressive.
Physique: Children who like dancing will enjoy this instrument.
Flutes can be played with a U shaped head joint. This makes it possible to play with the hands in front of the body instead of stretched out to the right side, ideal for a young child.
Mind Power: The flute suits a wide range of intelligences.
Transport: Easy to carry.
Just to name a few…