Over the past 10 years or so, numerous studies have been conducted on the influence that music and musical training has on the human brain. A new work in this series demonstrates that receiving even a little training in this fine art during childhood can boost neural health during adulthood.
The positive effect occurs especially when it comes to listening or processing complex sounds. Northwestern University
investigators say that the correlation is preserved even if children who study a musical instrument quit after just a few years. This commonly happens, the team adds.
The NU group conducted its investigation on adults who studied a musical instrument for 1 to 5 years during childhood. Their listening and auditory processing performances were then cross-referenced to those of individuals who received no such training.
Researchers discovered an enhanced neural response when people in the first group were exposed to complex sounds. This activation pattern enabled them to determine the fundamental frequency of the audio signal much more effectively than their peers in the second group.
According to sound experts, the fundamental frequency of an audio signal is what enables us to perceive speech and music. By recognizing it, we are able to distinguish, and focus on, a certain sound in a complex and very noisy auditory environment.
Details of the new study were published in the August 22 issue of the esteemed Journal of Neuroscience, in a paper entitled “A Little Goes a Long Way: How the Adult Brain is Shaped by Musical Training in Childhood.”
“Thus, musical training as children makes better listeners later in life. Based on what we already know about the ways that music helps shape the brain, the study suggests that short-term music lessons may enhance lifelong listening and learning,” NU scientist Nina Kraus explains.
She holds an appointment as the Hugh Knowles professor of neurobiology, physiology and communication sciences at Northwestern. “We help address a question on every parent’s mind: ‘Will my child benefit if she plays music for a short while but then quits training'?” she says.
The expert adds that people's past experience with sounds is largely what determines their auditory perception capabilities. Naturally, if a person has had more training, they will be better at it.
“We hope to use this new finding, in combination with past discoveries, to understand the type of education and remediation strategies, such as music classes and auditory-based training that might be most effective in combating the negative impact of poverty,” Kraus concludes.