Music teachers often deal with clients that are children or young adults. Researchers from the field of neuroscience and the aging brain have, however, demonstrated that music education benefits the brain and cognition throughout a person’s lifespan. They also have noticed the existence of patterns of decline from early adulthood in processing speed and accelerating declines in memory and reasoning. The development and refinement of neuroimaging techniques within the last twenty years or so has allowed for exploration of how the behavior and neurophysiology of musicians may differ (if at all) from non-musicians. Music training affects a wide range of cognitive abilities associated with brain enhancement including verbal processing, intelligence, reading, auditory processing, decision-making, and so on. Researchers have also found enhancements in cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency in musicians.
Music training also may induce neuroplastic changes and enhancements. Firstly, brain volume (gray matter and white matter) increases with musical training. Playing a musical instrument has been associated with increased white matter thickness in motor, premotor, and supplementary motor, prefrontal and parietal cortices–in other words, brain volume increases occur with musical training. Secondly, musical training changes connectivity and functional connectivity in the brain. Research has found that changes in the auditory-motor network for young adults over 18 beginning music training suggest that music training can influence brain plasticity even after brain maturation is almost complete.
In some cases, older adults with at least 10 years of musical experience displayed better performance in far-transfer tasks such as nonverbal memory, naming, and executive functioning tests than non-musicians or musicians with less than 10 years of musical experience. Other benefits include reduced age-related decline of fluid intelligence in older musicians, increased inhibition, and increased executive functioning. Overall, current research suggests that lifelong engagement in musical training maintains the brain in a younger state and enhances neural functioning.
Read more in “Music education and the aging brain” by Patricia Izbicki and Christina L. Svec (Contributions to music education 47 , RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-6592.
The above image is a mapping of human brain connectivity featuring dorsal and lateral views.