|Photo: Becky Vevea|
|Students at UIC College Prep in Chicago studying music in December 2016.|
Photo: Becky Vevea/WBEZ
Inside the choir room at a Chicago charter school, 41 students sing through several warm ups. The exercise is a basic scale, but it’s sung in a canon, with each section of the choir on a different note.
“There’s 41 of you here, and 41 minds have to be completely locked into what we’re doing in order for us to get that sound,” teacher Kelsey Tortorice tells her students at UIC College Prep, a campus of the Noble Street Network of Charter Schools in Chicago.
A new study by the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University revealed music instruction, and studying music in general, changes the teenage brain, so long as students participate for at least two years.
The researchers found that studying music alters teen brains in a way that makes them better able to focus and process sound -- a development that’s particularly important for learning.
For five years, beginning in 2009, Northwestern neurobiologist Nina Kraus and a team of researchers measured the brains of students in choir or band at UIC College Prep and three other public high schools in Chicago and one in Evanston. Once a year, researchers would record each student’s brain waves as they played various sounds.
They found that after two years, the brains of the students studying music did a better job processing sound and were less distracted by background noise than peers who didn’t study music long term.
“What is really kind of stunning is that these ingredients that are important for language are also the same ones that are strengthened by making music,” Kraus said.
Kraus has conducted similar studies in the past. But the Chicago study was different because music wasn’t optional; it was mandatory for multiple years.