Taking music seriously: How music training primes nervous system and boosts learning

July 20, 2010, Northwestern University

Those ubiquitous wires connecting listeners to you-name-the-sounds from invisible MP3 players -- whether of Bach, Miles Davis or, more likely today, Lady Gaga -- only hint at music's effect on the soul throughout the ages.

Now a data-driven review by Northwestern University researchers that will be published July 20 in Nature Reviews Neuroscience pulls together converging research from the scientific literature linking musical training to learning that spills over to skills including language, speech, memory, attention and even vocal emotion. The science covered comes from labs all over the world, from scientists of varying scientific philosophies, using a wide range of research methods.

The explosion of research in recent years focusing on the effects of music training on the nervous system, including the studies in the review, have strong implications for education, said Nina Kraus, lead author of the Nature perspective, the Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and and director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

Scientists use the term to describe the brain's ability to adapt and change as a result of training and experience over the course of a person's life. The studies covered in the Northwestern review offer a model of neuroplasticity, Kraus said. The research strongly suggests that the made during musical training also prime the brain for other aspects of human communication.

An active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity, she said, but also enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning.

"The brain is unable to process all of the available sensory information from second to second, and thus must selectively enhance what is relevant," Kraus said. Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex process that may involve reading or remembering a score, timing issues and coordination with other musicians.

"A musician's brain selectively enhances information-bearing elements in sound," Kraus said. "In a beautiful interrelationship between sensory and cognitive processes, the nervous system makes associations between complex sounds and what they mean." The efficient sound-to-meaning connections are important not only for music but for other aspects of communication, she said.

The Nature article reviews literature showing, for example, that musicians are more successful than non-musicians in learning to incorporate sound patterns for a new language into words. Children who are musically trained show stronger neural activation to pitch changes in speech and have a better vocabulary and reading ability than children who did not receive music training.

And musicians trained to hear sounds embedded in a rich network of melodies and harmonies are primed to understand speech in a noisy background. They exhibit both enhanced cognitive and sensory abilities that give them a distinct advantage for processing speech in challenging listening environments compared with non-musicians.

Children with learning disorders are particularly vulnerable to the deleterious effects of background noise, according to the article. "Music training seems to strengthen the same neural processes that often are deficient in individuals with developmental dyslexia or who have difficulty hearing speech in noise."

Currently what is known about the benefits of music training on sensory processing beyond that involved in musical performance is largely derived from studying those who are fortunate enough to afford such training, Kraus said.

The research review, the Northwestern researchers conclude, argues for serious investing of resources in music training in schools accompanied with rigorous examinations of the effects of such instruction on listening, learning, memory, attention and literacy skills.

"The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development, " the researchers conclude.

More information: "Music training for the development of auditory skills," by Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, will be published July 20 in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

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not rated yet Jul 20, 2010
Outstanding Research. To simplify for anyone who is unsure, think of the "pump" you get while listening to exciting, dramatic music as opposed to the calm feelings gets while listening to something softer or more calming. There is a reason we use rain drops instead of heavy metal for sleep tones. There is also a reason they use "We Will Rock You" as opposed to raindrops in a sports venue. ;)
not rated yet Jul 21, 2010
To understand why "we will rock you/raindrops" triggers certain feelings is one thing alright.But it's not about listening to music and get emotionally affected by it.
Musicians are training things that others don't necessarily have to.

Things like ambidexterity or multitasking by learning to read ahead while playing and perhaps even singing.Thinking in different kinds of scales and 'calculate' with them or even provoking synesthesia are also some of the things that musicians can develop.

So to resimplify ;)
training your brain is good.
The aspects of music training relates to quite some stuff in our daily lives, so music training increases the chance of succes in life!Or at least improves some skills.
not rated yet Jul 21, 2010
Therefore, the Broca's areas involved in speech production, not necessarily in static locations due to neural plasticity, must also be involved in the interpretation and production of sound patterns.

In that case, the voice, used as a musical instrument for interpreting / generating musical symbols can also open new neural pathways, AKA train neural plasticity.

But it is as dgreyz submitted, we must take an active role in musical interpretation / production to be better at language / communications.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 27, 2010
It's great that they are invesigating the effects of learning music on the brain. The more children who learn to play some instrument the better.

Now of course the question is How did this musicality evolve in human beings? And Why? There surely is no survival reason for it's existence, now is there?
And why the emotions coupled to music? Or is that why the music coupled to emotions?
For that matter, how did the whole body evolve since everything is connected to the brain in some way?
Did the brain come first or the body? or did they by some miracle evolve together?
Is it possible for some part of the body to evolve separately from the other, e.g. nerves come first then the blood vessels followed by the blood cells themselves?
How does the nerves get fed and maintained while there's no blood to bring nourishment?
How does the brain survive without the blood? Or the body without the brain?
Puzzling to say the least.
Looks more like evolution is a fairytale for adults.
not rated yet Jul 27, 2010
Puzzling to say the least.
Looks more like evolution is a fairytale for adults.
Your ignorance is astounding.

Do you really think evolution works by independently creating an entirely new structure without any of the minor adaptations required for that structure to work? Really?

What else could we expect from a grown man who believes in something for which there is less evidence than Santa Claus.

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