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London - If you’ve spent a small fortune on piano or violin lessons for your child, take heart.
It’ll be worth it – but not necessarily for the reasons that you might think.
Music training in childhood, even for as little as a year, leads to better communication skills in later life, researchers found.
When their brain signals were analysed, adults who had had between one and five years of lessons in the past were found to be more sensitive to sound than those with no training.
Scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago say this makes them better listeners. They are more able to pick up conversations in loud environments, and thus more adept at discerning social cues.
Professor Nina Kraus, one of the authors, said: ‘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.
‘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?’
Many children are taught a musical instrument in the hope they will develop a lifelong passion, but few carry on past secondary school.
The researchers recruited 45 adults of similar age and intelligence, and put them into three groups – no music tuition, one to five years of lessons, and six to 11 years. Those who had taken lessons had typically started them at around the age of nine.
They listened to a series of sounds while electrodes on their scalp measured their brain responses.
Sounds are tiny fluctuations in air pressure which are detected in the ear and travel down the ear canal as electrical impulses to the brain’s temporal lobe, where they are processed.
Each sound is made up of many frequencies but the number which make it all the way through the auditory system varies from person to person.
Participants with some musical training picked up a bigger frequency range and were better at pulling out the ‘fundamental frequency’ – the lowest one which is central to recognising speech or music in a noisy place.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, adds to the wealth of evidence that musical ability makes people better at learning languages. - Daily Mail