A recent article in the Journal of Neuroscience touts the benefits of even a few years of music training. In the Scientific American “Science Sushi” blog, Christie Wilcox says, “Music has a remarkable ability to affect and manipulate how we feel. Simply listening to songs we like stimulates the brain’s reward system.” And it gets even better.
“Even a little music training while we’re young can shape how brains develop, improving the ability to differentiate sounds and speech,” Wilcox writes. “Researchers have found that musicians are better able to process foreign languages because of their ability to hear differences in pitch.”
In tight budgetary times, many students have only a limited music education, but apparently picking up an instrument for a couple of years has benefits. (Policymakers, take note!)
“The team of researchers from Northwestern University tested the responses of 45 adults to different complex sounds ranging in pitch.” The participants were grouped by how much music study they had completed as children (none, 1–5 years, or 6–11 years).
Music training turned out to have a profound effect on the say the participants’ brains responded to sounds. Says Wilcox, “The people who had studied music, even if only for a few years, had more robust neural processing of the different test sounds.” More important, those with music training “were more effective at pulling out the fundamental frequency, or the lowest frequency of sound, of the test noises” than were those who had never studied music.
One of the study’s coauthors, Nina Kraus, stated “Akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness.”
If careful listening is an important 21st-century skill, music study is a critical prerequisite. Childhood music learning, says Wilcox, “has strong linguistic benefits and improves performance on everyday listening tasks. Since we live in an inherently noisy world, the better we are at focusing on sound and perceiving different sounds.” Students for whom English is a second language or with learning challenges especially stand to benefit.
Music study, now, it would seem, can make a difference on the brains of future adults. A worthy investment for the planet!
The original research showing significant differences between the pitch acuity of those having some music study and no music training is found at Erika. Skoe and Nina Kraus, “A Little Goes a Long Way: How the Adult Brain Is Shaped by Musical Training in Childhood,” Journal of Neuroscience, vol. 32, no. 34 (August 22 2012). Abstract at http://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/34/11507.abstract