Engagement in community music classes sparks neuroplasticity and language development in children from disadvantaged backgrounds

Nina Kraus*, Jane Hornickel, Dana L. Strait, Jessica Slater, Elaine Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Children from disadvantaged backgrounds often face impoverished auditory environments, such as greater exposure to ambient noise and fewer opportunities to participate in complex language interactions during development. These circumstances increase their risk for academic failure and dropout. Given the academic and neural benefits associated with musicianship, music training may be one method for providing auditory enrichment to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We followed a group of primary-school students from gang reduction zones in Los Angeles, CA, USA for 2 years as they participated in Harmony Project. By providing free community music instruction for disadvantaged children, Harmony Project promotes the healthy development of children as learners, the development of children as ambassadors of peace and understanding, and the development of stronger communities. Children who were more engaged in the music program-as defined by better attendance and classroom participation-developed stronger brain encoding of speech after 2 years than their less-engaged peers in the program. Additionally, children who were more engaged in the program showed increases in reading scores, while those less engaged did not show improvements. The neural gains accompanying music engagement were seen in the very measures of neural speech processing that are weaker in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our results suggest that community music programs such as Harmony Project provide a form of auditory enrichment that counteracts some of the biological adversities of growing up in poverty, and can further support community-based interventions aimed at improving child health and wellness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1403
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberDEC
StatePublished - 2014


  • Auditory training
  • Community music training
  • Electrophysiology
  • Low socioeconomic status/poverty
  • Reading
  • Speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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