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This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain On Music

FSPH alumna Dr. Margaret Martin is showing how music lessons don't just help students learn pitch, tone and timbre -- they also can improve kids' abilities to process language.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Boy learning how to read basic music notes from teacher at piano


Musical training doesn't just improve your ear for music — it also helps your ear for speech. That's the takeaway from an unusual new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience.Researchers found that kids who took music lessons for two years didn't just get better at playing the trombone or violin; they found that playing music also helped kids' brains process language.

And here's something else unusual about the study: where it took place. It wasn't a laboratory, but in the offices of Harmony Project in Los Angeles. It's a nonprofit after-school program that teaches music to children in low-income communities.

Two nights a week, neuroscience and musical learning meet at Harmony's Hollywood headquarters, where some two-dozen children gather to learn how to play flutes, oboes, trombones and trumpets. The program also includes on-site instruction at many public schools across Los Angeles County.

Harmony Project is the brainchild of Margaret Martin, whose life path includes parenting two kids while homeless before earning a doctorate in public health. A few years ago, she noticed something remarkable about the kids who had gone through her program.

FSPH alumna Dr. Margaret Martin (MPH '93, DrPH '98) founded Harmony Project has worked in low-income communities as an educator and community organizer for more than 30 years. She is passionate about arts education and its capacity to transform the lives of children with limited resources, along with the families and neighborhoods in which they live.

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