We show that in-school music training changes the course of adolescent brain development. Relative to an active control group that shows the expected wane in subcortical response consistency, adolescents undertaking in-school music training maintained heightened neural consistency throughout high school. The music training group also exhibited earlier emergence of the adult cortical response, suggesting that in-school music accelerates neurodevelopment. These changes seem to benefit literacy skills: both groups improved in phonological awareness relative to the general population, but the music training group improved more compared with the active controls. Our results support the notion that the adolescent brain remains receptive to training, underscoring the importance of enrichment during teenage years.
Fundamental changes in brain structure and function during adolescence are well-characterized, but the extent to which experience modulates adolescent neurodevelopment is not. Musical experience provides an ideal case for examining this question because the influence of music training begun early in life is well-known. We investigated the effects of in-school music training, previously shown to enhance auditory skills, versus another in-school training program that did not focus on development of auditory skills (active control). We tested adolescents on neural responses to sound and language skills before they entered high school (pretraining) and again 3 y later. Here, we show that in-school music training begun in high school prolongs the stability of subcortical sound processing and accelerates maturation of cortical auditory responses. Although phonological processing improved in both the music training and active control groups, the enhancement was greater in adolescents who underwent music training. Thus, music training initiated as late as adolescence can enhance neural processing of sound and confer benefits for language skills. These results establish the potential for experience-driven brain plasticity during adolescence and demonstrate that in-school programs can engender these changes.