African American teen plays an acoustic guitar.

African American teen plays an acoustic guitar.

I was a musician from junior high through college. My athletic abilities left much to be desired, but as a 4th grader, an astute music teacher assigned me to the cello. This instrument became the fuel that drove me to push past my shyness, embrace being on stage, and forge friendships that I still have to this day.  Learning to read music was a similar experience to learning a second language: frustrating at times, challenging, but so rewarding when I was able to put it into practice and result in something that was easily understandable to another human being.

A recent study was published that found a correlation between teens who learned to play a musical instrument and boosted brain development. In the study, high school students who were provided musical training had a increased cortical development. This translated to improved phonologic (auditory) responses (i.e. improved literacy).

In addition to advancing neural development during childhood and adolescence, music teaches many things: you must learn time management (both to keep rhythm and to practice), discipline to learn to breath correctly or move your fingers precisely. It teaches you how to work with a ‘team’ of other musicians and instruments both similar and different from yourself. For me, it helped me move beyond my natural tendency as an introvert to remain quiet as I led my section in quartets, solos, and performances around my home town.

For those teens who may not perform, music can still play a positive role in development. Think of your favorite song for a minute. Do you sing it when you’re sad or do you hum when you’re happy? When something comes on the radio that you haven’t heard in years, does it bring back memories? A research study from the International Journal of Adolescence and Youth (Jan 2013) reviewed current knowledge on music in psychosocial development. The results: music influences important parts of adolescent development, music can be a protective risk factor, and music can serve as an adjunct to prevention and intervention for adolescent risk (such as prevention of anxiety).

So consider encouraging your teen to pick up a musical instrument and learn to play, join a choir, or simply listen to their favorite genre when they’re feeling bored. Music has so many benefits, from enhancing brain development to helping ease nerves during stress.

How has music impacted your life?