|1: Music Education as a Powerful Stimulus for Brain Plasticity|
Full professor at the Institute for Music Physiology and Musicians' Medicine University for Music and Drama, Hanover, Germany
There is general agreement that music is an important value "in itself", providing joy, feeling for aesthetic values and a unique means to explore and to express emotions. During the last decade, however, music educators have become increasingly interested in understanding "secondary" effects of music education, especially on brain activation patterns and brain networks. Evidence from neurobiological research, demonstrating that music education causes remarkable central nervous adaptations has fueled this interest. In short, music making turns out to be the behavior, which probably most effectively induces short- and long-term brain plasticity.
Neural plasticity permits the adaptation of the brain to environmental factors that cannot be anticipated by genetic programming. The neural and behavioral changes attributed to plasticity have been observed on different time scales, ranging from several minutes to the whole life-time of the individual. Very different processes are likely to support plastic changes at the extremes of this time-line. Accordingly, experience-driven neuroplasticity has been explained by both the improvement and de novo growth of new dendrites, synapses, and neurons and the disinhibition or inhibition of pre-existing lateral connections between neurons by sensory input. The former mechanism entails structural changes at the microscopic and macroscopic level, whereas the latter can be achieved by strengthening or inhibiting pre-existing synaptic connections in the spirit of Hebbian learning. Sometimes even more rapid changes of brain responses occurring in the order of milliseconds have been discussed under the heading of neural plasticity. These are likely due to attentional modulation of neural circuits, however, and should be distinguished from true plastic changes.