Taking music lessons as a child won't just give you a greater appreciation for music, or make you better at keeping a beat -- a small new study suggests it could even physically change parts of your brain for the better.
Researchers from Beijing Normal University in China found that starting lessons before age 7 is associated with greater volume in brain regions linked with self-awareness and hearing, compared with starting music lessons after that age.
"Early musical training does more good for kids than just making it easier for them to enjoy music, it changes their brain and these brain changes could lead to cognitive advances as well," study researcher Yunxin Wang said in a statement. "Our study provides evidence that early music training could change the structure of the brain’s cortex," which is the outer layer of the brain.
The study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, included 48 Han Chinese adults between ages 19 and 21. All of the participants began formal music lessons as children, but they differed in when they started -- some started as young as as age 3, while others started as late as 15.
Researchers examined the brain volume of the study participants, particularly the surface area, grey matter and folding index. They found that people who started music lessons before age 7 had a thicker cortex than those who began lessons after age 7.
In addition, another study presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting and conducted by University of Montreal researchers suggested that long-term musical training at a high level is linked with greater touch-sound integration, and not just sight-sound integration.
Childhood music lessons could also help train your brain to respond faster to speech as an adult, Northwestern University researchers found earlier this month in the Journal of Neuroscience.