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LAPhil and USC neuroscientists launch 5-year study of music education and child brain development

Researchers at USC Brain and Creativity Institute will explore the effects of intense music training on cognitive development in LA Phil's YOLA at HOLA program

University of Southern California

The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, the USC Brain and Creativity Institute and Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) are delighted to announce a longitudinal research collaboration to investigate the emotional, social and cognitive effects of musical training on childhood brain development.

The five-year research project, Effects of Early Childhood Musical Training on Brain and Cognitive Development, will offer USC researchers an important opportunity to provide new insights and add rigorous data to an emerging discussion about the role of early music engagement in learning and brain function.

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 with the USC Brain and Creativity Institute -- led by acclaimed neuroscientists Hanna Damasio and Antonio Damasio -- will track how children respond to music from the very onset of their exposure to systematic, high intensity music education.

Starting when the children are between the age of 6 and 7, to ages 11 and 12, the researchers will use standard 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 will be compared to a control group of children matched in age, socio-economic status and cognitive abilities, but with no musical training.

All children will be 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. The USC Brain and Creativity Institute team began working with YOLA at HOLA students in September 2012.


USC University Professors Hanna and Antonio Damasio, directors of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute and the Dornsife Neuroimaging Institute at USC, and professors of psychology and neurology in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, will supervise the study. Dr. Assal Habibi of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute, herself a musician and a neuroscientist, and Dr. Beatriz Ilari of the USC Thornton School of Music, a musician and music educator, along with graduate students and research assistants, will work directly with YOLA children and their families, and collect data for the assessments. Research results and summaries of findings will be reported to the scientific community and will be made available to the public.

About Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA)

Through Gustavo Dudamel's YOUTH ORCHESTRA LA (YOLA) program - 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 from underserved neighborhoods, enabling every child to contribute using their full potential. Over the last four years, YOLA has grown to serve over 500 students ages 2-17 in South L.A. and the Rampart District.

YOLA at EXPO Center, part of Exposition Park in South L.A., has grown to include three orchestras, a preschool program, mentorship, group lessons, chamber music, and parent ensembles. The program serves hundreds of students who attend four days each week. In addition, students perform annually at Walt Disney Concert Hall and have appeared multiple times on the iconic stage of the Hollywood Bowl. YOLA at EXPO is a partnership of the LA Phil, Harmony Project, and EXPO Center, a City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks facility.

Located in the Rampart District, YOLA at HOLA (Heart of Los Angeles) serves hundreds of students with intensive after-school orchestral instruction five days a week. Classes include music creativity, singing and solfège, ensemble rehearsals, and an hour of 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 students perform regularly at venues throughout Los Angeles. YOLA at HOLA is a partnership between the LA Phil and Heart of Los Angeles.

About the USC Brain and Creativity Institute

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.

As of 2012, the USC Brain and Creativity Institute will be housed in a new building. 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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