Music for words

IF YOU want to improve the vocabulary of your children, sign them up for the orchestra, a study released recently suggests.

The research, which was published in the journal Neuropsychology, builds on earlier research showing that the region of the brain involved in verbal memory is larger in adult musicians than in those who are not musicians.

Researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong studied 90 boys in a local school. Half of them were members of the school's string orchestra. The boys with musical training scored about 20 per cent higher on a test of their ability to learn new words and did slightly better than the non-musicians at recalling words after a 30-minute break.

In contrast, though, no differences were found between the two groups in a test of visual memory.

A year later, the researchers tested again the 45 boys who had been in the orchestra, including nine who had dropped out, and 17 boys from the non-musician group who had joined the orchestra.

The newcomers, who had significantly lower verbal memory scores on the previous test, made the greatest progress over the course of the year, the researchers found.

Those who stayed with the orchestra also improved their scores, though not as much.

Those who dropped out saw their scores decline, though they remained above those of students who had never played.