Why Music Training Should Not
Be Cut Out of School Curriculums
At the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual
meeting, a Northwestern University neuroscientist will argue that
music training has profound effects that shape the sensory system
and should be a mainstay of K-12 education.
"Playing an instrument may help youngsters better process
speech in noisy classrooms and more accurately interpret the nuances
of language that are conveyed by subtle changes in the human voice,"
says Nina Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology
and Communication Sciences at Northwestern University.
"Cash-strapped school districts are making a mistake when
they cut music from the K-12 curriculum," says Kraus, director
of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory in Northwestern's School
Kraus will present her own research and the research of other
neuroscientists suggesting music education can be an effective
strategy in helping typically developing children as well as children
with developmental dyslexia or autism more accurately encode speech.
"People's hearing systems are fine-tuned by the experiences
they've had with sound throughout their lives," says Kraus.
"Music training is not only beneficial for processing music
stimuli. We've found that years of music training may also improve
how sounds are processed for language and emotion."
Researchers in the Kraus lab provided the first concrete evidence
that playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem's
sensitivity to speech sounds. The findings are consistent with
other studies they have conducted revealing that anomalies in
brainstem sound encoding in some learning disabled children can
be improved with auditory training.
The Kraus lab has a unique approach for demonstrating how the
nervous system responds to the acoustic properties of speech and
music sounds with sub-millisecond precision. The fidelity with
which they can access the transformation of the sound waves into
brain waves in individual people is a powerful new development.
The neural enhancements seen in individuals with musical training
is not just an amplifying or volume knob effect," says Kraus.
"Individuals with music training show a selective fine-tuning
of relevant aspects of auditory signals."
By comparing brain responses to predictable versus variable sound
sequences, Kraus and her colleagues found that an effective or
well-tuned sensory system takes advantage of stimulus regularities,
such as the sound patterns that distinguish a teacher's voice
from competing sounds in a noisy classroom.
They previously found that the ability of the nervous system
to utilize acoustic patterns correlates with reading ability and
the ability to hear speech in noise. Now they have discovered
that the effectiveness of the nervous system to utilize sound
patterns is linked to musical ability.
"Playing music engages the ability to extract relevant patterns,
such as the sound of one's own instrument, harmonies and rhythms,
from the 'soundscape,'" Kraus says. "Not surprisingly,
musicians' nervous systems are more effective at utilizing the
patterns in music and speech alike."
Studies in Kraus' laboratory indicate that music -- a high-order
cognitive process -- affects automatic processing that occurs
early in the processing stream. "The brainstem, an evolutionarily
ancient part of the brain, is modified by our experience with
sound," says Kraus. "Now we know that music can fundamentally
shape our subcortical sensory circuitry in ways that may enhance
everyday tasks, including reading and listening in noise."
Kraus will present "Cognitive-Sensory Interaction in the
Neural Encoding of Music and Speech" as part of a panel on
music-language interactions in the brain at the annual meeting
of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
February 22, 2010