Arguments For & Against
Early Learning

"Teaching is pointless..."

The arguments of Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff in the book Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, and BrillBaby's response:

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff:

Early exposure to classical music does not make your brain grow in ways that make you smarter.

BrillBaby's response:

True - the "Mozart effect" has been basically debunked. What happened was that a group of researchers discovered in 1993 that listening to Mozart could induce a short-term improvement in subjects' spatial reasoning skills. The media jumped on this, and the myth that "Mozart makes you smarter" was born. This oversimplification has since led to the marketing of "educational" baby music CDs, which many parents believe will boost their child's IQ.

But does this mean that there is nothing to be said for a musical education? Far from it. It's just that classical music doesn't have a monopoly on making smart babies.

The effects of music on the brain are profound. For a start, just listening to music stimulates several areas of the brain at once - in ways that are only just being revealed. It is only in the last 10 years that scientists have discovered that the cerebellum - once believed to be solely responsible for controlling motor skills - is involved in music interpretation.

That we decipher music primarily with the right hemisphere of the brain is well known. However, scientists have recently discovered that musically experienced individuals use more of their left brain - i.e. take a more analytical approach to dissecting music - than musically inexperienced individuals. When listening to music, people who received musical training early in life also show a greater area of brain activity than do non-musicians.

According to Josef Rauschecker, a researcher at Georgetown University, "Music is processed in more regions of the brain than we ever imagined." He adds, "Musicians devote more brain power to listening to music and may have better abilities in other areas as well."

Musicians train their "ear" (by which we really mean that they train the auditory center of their brain) - but that's only half the story. Learning and regularly practicing a musical instrument have profound physical effects on the architecture of the brain. And the sculpting effect is most profound in musicians who began their training in early childhood.

Explains Gottfried Schlaug of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, "There are quite striking structural differences in the brains of professional musicians compared to non-musicians. For example, we have found that musicians have a larger than average corpus callosum [a fiber bundle connecting the left and right hemisphere of the brain], which may result in enhanced communication between the two halves of the brain. Furthermore, brain regions responsible for movement planning and movement execution as well as brain regions responsible for hearing were found to be larger in musicians compared with matched non-musician controls."