With age, the "plasticity" that allows experience to mold the brain so easily declines. But it doesn't disappear. At any age, learning a challenging new set of skills such as instrumental music is likely to return cognitive dividends, says Harvard University neurologist Gottfried Schlaug. And for adults, he added, the prospect of making music can be a far more effective motivator to practice than nagging parents are to younger musicians.
"Music is sort of the perfect activity that people can engage in from young to older years. It affects how the brain develops and affects how the brain changes in structure" at any age, Schlaug says.
For the mature brain, even listening to beloved music may have what scientists call a "neuroprotective" effect.
Here's something that ties in with a theme that shows up here from time to time, usually involving singing. Makes me glad I'm remembering Chopin's birthday and listening to his music. Noticed on Twitter via @alonzofretwell and @dontgetcaught.
More from the LA Times, this time on the Mozart effect, and time via @NewsHourArtBeat. Loved the introduction
Five months after we are conceived, music begins to capture our attention and wire our brains for a lifetime of aural experience. At the other end of life, musical memories can be imprinted on the brain so indelibly that they can be retrieved, perfectly intact, from the depths of a mind ravaged by Alzheimer's disease.
In between, music can puncture stress, dissipate anger and comfort us in sadness.