The Hiking Trails of the Brain

6 Sep

Each summer, my family loads up the car and heads west on Route 80 into the wilds of Pennsylvania. We’ve been camping at Clear Creek State Park since long before our children were born, and now I can’t imagine a summer without that park, its creek, and all those hiking trails. This August, I decided to explore a trail in the park that we don’t usually hike, mostly because it’s a little harder reach. Well, I can safely say that most people who wander through that park don’t hike that trail, either! The path was so overgrown in some places that we had to stop and search for signs of which way to go. That’s when I remembered a tidbit I’d read in a Music Together publication about the neural pathways in our brains being like natural pathways on the ground — the more we “walk” on neural pathways, the clearer they become; and if we don’t walk on these pathways, the become overgrown and disappear. (Maybe that’s why my French is no longer what it was when I was in high school…)

Neurobiological research suggests that the best time to establish clear, efficient neural pathways is early in life, when the brain is the most elastic and open to shaping and change. The first six years of a child’s life are critical because this is the time when neural pathways develop most rapidly. This is the stage of life when the window is fully open for musical growth and development — when they can not only listen to but also begin to understand the music they are hearing. Once these super-efficient brain trails are established, music input has a clear pathway on which to walk as the child grows and takes in more and more complex information.

If I’d been a new song hiking through someone’s brain a couple of weeks ago, instead of just plain old me hiking that overgrown trail in the Pennsylvania woods, I’d have wished for a little Music Together and family music-making to help clear out the underbrush and sharpen up that trail. We got through the hike alright, with just a few extra scratches on our legs, but the trek took longer than expected and we lost energy along the way. Think of how happy songs and rhythms and harmonies are as they travel along the hiking trails of our Music Together children’s brains — their trips are quick, their paths are clear, and they have musical energy to spare when they get to where they’re going. So, do those music hikers a favor and keep making music with your children as much as you can!

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