Learning a physical task with the aid of music induces rapid change in a key part of the brain, according to a new study conducted by the University of Edinburgh. Individuals who practised a motor skill to music demonstrated “increased structural connectivity” between the areas of the brain that process sound and control movement. The study, published in the medical journal Brain & Cognition, found that musical cues promoted swift microstructural change in task-relevant pathways in adults.

Dr Katie Overy, who headed the research team, told the BBC that “the study suggests that music makes a key difference. We have long known that music encourages people to move. This study provides the first experimental evidence that adding musical cues to learning new motor tasks can lead to changes in white matter structure in the brain”.

Researchers divided 30 right-handed volunteers into two groups and observed them learning a new task involving multiple sequences of finger movements with their left hands. One group did so with the help of musical cues, while the other did so without. Over the course of four weeks, both groups grasped the sequences with an equal level of success. However, MRI scans showed that the group allowed musical cues exhibited a substantial increase in structural connectivity on the right side of the brain, while the group without indicated no such change.

The researchers hope that further investigation will help determine whether music can play a part in motor rehabilitation programmes, particularly in cases of stroke where structural reorgnisation of the brain is essential.

Read the full study here.