The founder of a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides free music lessons to low-income students from gang-ridden neighborhoods began to notice several years ago a hopeful sign: Kids were graduating high school and heading off to UCLA, Tulane and other big universities.
That's when Margaret Martin asked how the children in the Harmony Project were beating the odds.
Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois believe that the students' music training played a role in their educational achievement, helping as Martin noticed 90 percent of them graduate from high school while 50 percent or more didn't from those same neighborhoods.
A two-year study of 44 children in the program shows that the training changes the brain in ways that make it easier for youngsters to process sounds, according to results reported in Tuesday's edition of The Journal of Neuroscience. That increased ability, the researchers say, is linked directly to improved skills in such subjects as reading and speech.
But, there is one catch: People have to actually play an instrument to get smarter. They can't just crank up the tunes on their iPod.