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Music and the Brain: Finding Harmony

A little over a year ago, I had the good fortune to participate in a symposium hosted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Kennedy Center entitled “Music and the Brain: Research Across the Lifespan.” Over the course of two days, a panel of experts discussed the therapeutic and educational implications of recent scientific research on music and the brain. A summary of that discussion was recently published in the journal Neuron, and I thought a brief recapitulation of three points in particular might be of interest to our readers, whether they are leaders of music organizations, musicians, or music educators (or perhaps most likely, all three).

The first of these is the potential for musical experience to “foster the development of non-musical skills” among children, from language development to executive function. Much of the discussion focused on topics that may be familiar to anyone who has run a music program, such as the length and intensity (or “dosage”) of musical experience required to yield improvements in a certain domain. The second point is the value of music as a therapeutic intervention for children (and in particular, children with autism or cancer) and adults struggling with mental illness or chronic pain. This work is at the heart of the burgeoning field of music therapy, and as someone most familiar with the educational applications of music, I was gratified to learn about the demonstrable benefits of music for a range of serious conditions. The third and final point concerned the potential for music to sustain cognitive function as we age, and even to restore function that was lost as a result of neurodegenerative disease.

If readers are interested, I would encourage them to read the full article or to go online to learn more about the initiative that grew out of the symposium called “Sound Health.”

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