The study has been published in the current issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Practicing a musical instrument as a young child, the study reports, is the best way to boost what is called "white matter"—the parts of the brain responsible for communication with the rest of the body—and the pyramidal tract, which is the central nervous system's major conduit.
The pyramidal tract of musicians in their 30s who started practicing before they were 10 years old has been found to be more structured than in non-musicians.
Although it is not yet understood how white matter improves musical performance, Frederik Ullen, one of the study's scientists and also a pianist, said, "It is likely that it gives pianists that extra boost to reach the absolute top level."
Ullen also speculated that development of the brain structures might be crucial to dancers and athletes as well.