Researchers in Montreal have found that taking music lessons before the age of seven, creates stronger connections within the brain

Do you remember dreading, or possibly loving music classes as you were growing up? Maybe you started piano lessons in first grade, or learned the recorder in kindergarten. Well, say a big thank you to your teachers and parents, because those lessons had a huge impact on the development of your grey matter. The younger a person starts, the stronger the connections will be.

The Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study which suggests that training in music before the age of seven, has a considerable effect on brain development. Those who started at a young age exhibited stronger connections between motor regions – the parts of the brain responsible for carrying out movement.

The research, which was carried out by psychology professor, Virginia Penhune and Robert J. Zatorre, a researcher at the University, provided strong evidence to substantiate the claims.


The report verified that the period between the ages of six and eight are what is known as “sensitive period”. During this time, an engagement with music education connects with brain progress and expansion; producing abiding changes in motor function and the structure of the brain.

Penhune says: “Learning to play an instrument requires coordination between hands and with visual or auditory stimuli,” “Practicing an instrument before age seven likely boosts the normal maturation of connections between motor and sensory regions of the brain, creating a framework upon which ongoing training can build.”

With the help of study co-authors, PhD candidates Christopher J. Steele and Jennifer A. Bailey, Penhune and Zatorre tested 36 adult musicians on a movement task, and scanned their brains. Half of these musicians began musical training before age seven, while the other half began at a later age, but the two groups had the same number of years of musical training and experience.

These two groups were also compared with individuals who had received little or no formal musical training.

When comparing a motor skill between the two groups, musicians who began before age seven showed more accurate timing, even after two days of practice.

When comparing brain structure, musicians who started early showed enhanced white matter in the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerve fibres that connects the left and right motor regions of the brain. Importantly, the researchers found that the younger a musician started, the greater the connectivity. 

Interestingly, the brain scans showed no difference between the non-musicians and the musicians who began their training later in life; this suggests that the brain developments under consideration happen early or not at all. Because the study tested musicians on a non-musical motor skill task, it also suggests that the benefits of early music training extend beyond the ability to play an instrument.

“This study is significant in showing that training is more effective at early ages because certain aspects of brain anatomy are more sensitive to changes at those time points,” says co-author Dr. Zatorre, researcher at the Montreal Neurological Institute and co-director of the International Laboratory for Brain Music and Sound Research.

But, says Penhune, “it’s important to remember that what we are showing is that early starters have some specific skills and differences in the brain that go along with that. But, these things don’t necessarily make them better musicians. Musical performance is about skill, but it is also about communication, enthusiasm, style, and many other things that we don’t measure. So, while starting early may help you express your genius, it probably won’t make you a genius.”