Harvard researchers Gottfried Schlaug and Ellen Winner say that their findings apply not only to tests of auditory discrimination and finger dexterity, but also to tests measuring verbal ability and visual pattern completion.
During the study published online in PLoS ONE, the researchers compared 41 eight- to eleven-year-olds who had studied either piano or a string instrument for a minimum of three years to 18 children who had no instrumental training.
Children in both groups spent 30-40 minutes per week in general music classes at school, but those in the instrumental group also received private lessons learning an instrument and spent additional time practicing at home.
The researchers observed that the young musicians scored significantly higher than those in the control group on two skills closely related to their music training-auditory discrimination and finger dexterity.
The musicians were also found to score higher in two skills that appeared unrelated to music-verbal ability- measured by a vocabulary IQ test- and visual pattern completion - as measured by the Raven's Progressive Matrices.
The researchers further said that the longer and more intensely the child had studied his or her instrument, the better he or she scored on the tests.
Based on their observations, the researchers came to the conclusion that though their study shed light on the question of whether connections between music and other, unrelated skills did exist.
They said that further studies were needed to examine the causal relationships between instrumental music training, practice intensity, and cognitive enhancements.