So far, we have seen that infants quickly learn a lot of musical information. They do so just listening to their culture’s music. But what about children who actively participate in music early in life? Scientists wondered if this early music experience could influence brain development. Could playing music, rather than just listening to it, result in changes to brain structure or function?

Does early music training help the developing brain understand musical information? To find out, researchers followed a group of four to six year old children who took violin lessons for a year. They also followed a group of children who did not take lessons. Every three months, researchers measured children’s brain responses to sounds. Children heard both violin sounds as well as white noise.

To measure brain responses, researchers used a brain imaging technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG). MEG allowed the researchers to pinpoint the exact time and location of the brains’ responses to sounds. Children taking violin lessons showed stronger brain responses to violin sounds. But there were no differences in their brain responses to white noise. Violin lessons may help focus children’s attention on violin sounds. And this focus allows the brain to process these sounds better.