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  • Jun. 14, 2016

    Researchers at Brain and Creativity Institute at USC publish a new report exploring the effects of intense music training on brain development of children in YOLA at HOLA, a partnership between the LA Phil and Heart of Los Angeles

    The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, the USC Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI), and Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), launched a five-year longitudinal research collaboration to investigate the impact of music training on children's well-being and development in 2012. Now after only two years of music training (2013-15), the BCI has published preliminary results in a recent article in the notable brain science journal, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, that clearly demonstrates that these children already show marked progress in two vital areas: they are better at processing sound as shown by an enhanced ability to discriminate pitches i.e. being better at identifying changes in the auditory  environment, and the maturation of their brain has accelerated, as suggested by specific EEG changes occurring during the processing of sound. These results add new insights and rigorous findings to the emerging discussion about the role of early music engagement in learning and brain function.

    These interim results strongly support the idea that music training during childhood, even for a period as brief as two years, does accelerate brain development and improves sound processing and can benefit language acquisition, speech perception, reading readiness and consequently the intellectual development of children. The results also demonstrate that community music programs, such as YOLA at HOLA, can offset some of the negative consequences that low socio-economic status has on child development, including improving the trajectory of language development of this group. The findings suggest another attractive possibility that the acceleration of intellectual and brain development that is currently observed will continue to have beneficial consequences on the children's intellectual and emotional capacities well beyond the end of the intervention, providing a platform for further development in the future.  

    Through a collaboration with the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles at Heart of Los Angeles (YOLA at HOLA) program, a partnership between the LA Phil and HOLA which provides free instruments and musical training to children from the Rampart District of Los Angeles, researchers at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute - directed by acclaimed neuroscientists Hanna Damasio and Antonio Damasio - are tracking how children respond to music from the very onset of their participation in systematic, high intensity music education.

    Starting with children between the ages of 6 and 7, the researchers use cutting-edge neural and psychological assessments and advanced brain imaging techniques to track brain, emotional and social development. The group of children involved in the YOLA at HOLA program is being compared to two control groups of children matched in age, socio-economic status and cognitive abilities - one involved in sports training but with no musical training and one group with no systematic training.

    All children are being followed for five consecutive years, providing a rare chance for researchers to discover the effects of musical training on emotional, social and cognitive aspects of development as they actually occur, rather than inferring later-life effects.

    Dr. Assal Habibi, a senior research associate at the Brain and Creativity Institute and a musician herself, USC University Professors Hanna Damasio and Antonio Damasio, directors of the Brain and Creativity Institute and the Dornsife Neuroimaging Institute at USC, and Dr. Beatriz Ilari of the USC Thornton School of Music, are conducting the study. Along with graduate students and research assistants, they work directly with YOLA children and their families, and collect data for the assessments. Research results and summaries of findings are being reported to the scientific community and are being made available to the public.

    Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA)
    Through Gustavo Dudamel's Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA) program founded in 2007 and inspired by Venezuela's revolutionary El Sistema, the LA Phil and its community partners provide free instruments, intensive music training, and academic support to students in neighborhoods where the need is high and the financial resources limited. YOLA offers unique travel and performance opportunities for dedicated students, and contributes to developing the potential of young people throughout their entire childhood. YOLA currently serves more than 750 students at three sites: YOLA at EXPO in South L.A., YOLA at HOLA in the Rampart District, and YOLA at LACSHA in East L.A. For more information on YOLA and the partner organizations that make it possible, please visit

    From what started 27 years ago with just a handful of kids in a dilapidated gym, HOLA now serves over 2,300 youth ages 6-24, on a four-building campus in the Rampart District. HOLA is a home away from home for thousands of kids and unique in the exceptional quality of instruction and individual attention it provides, giving kids the best chance to become successful in life. Through our signature YOLA at HOLA Program, hundreds of students receive intensive after-school orchestral instruction five days a week. Classes include music creativity, singing and solfège, ensemble rehearsals, and academic tutoring daily. This holistic approach fosters a sense of community and provides the students with the opportunity to take advantage of HOLA's exceptional programs and resources. YOLA at HOLA is a partnership between the LA Phil and Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA). For more information visit,

    The USC Brain and Creativity Institute was founded by Antonio Damasio and Hanna Damasio in 2006. Since ancient times, thinkers and scientists have sought to explain how we perceive, interpret, and shape our existence. However, until very recently, researchers interested in these questions have had to rely entirely on conjecture or indirect evidence. Recent advances in brain imaging and fresh insights into the functioning of the human brain at the level of systems, cells and molecules, now provide opportunities for uncovering the neurological basis for a large array of mental functions - from emotion and decision-making to the creativity expressed in the arts, sciences and technology.

    Drawing on partners from the social sciences, the humanities, and several professional disciplines, the USC Brain and Creativity Institute provides a framework for tackling issues ranging from the personal (such as individual health problems), to the societal and global (such as education and political conflict). The Institute is a groundbreaking effort to make use of important new discoveries from the mind and brain sciences and confront pressing issues of our time.

    The USC Brain and Creativity Institute are housed in a new building where the design illustrates its mission. Side by side with laboratories dedicated to scientific methods of investigating mind and brain, such as magnetic resonance scanning (MR) and electroencephalography (EEG), sits one of the oldest instruments for understanding of the human mind: a classical auditorium, with state-of-the-art acoustics, devoted to music and theater performances, literary readings, and scientific presentations. For more information, visit


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