Study Suggests Music Training Linked to Language Skills


A study by Nina Kraus, Director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University School of Communication, has revealed the significance of music training in high school as a way of improving academic performance and strengthening hearing and language skills. Band music training, the authors say, accelerates neurodevelopment of the brain.

In her study titled: “Music training alters the course of adolescent auditory development” Kraus showed that students exposed to music training had had a faster maturation in how their brain’s responded to sound and improved their sensitivity to sound nuances.

“While music programs are often the first to be cut when the school budget is tight, these results highlight music’s place in the high school curriculum,” the research leader said. “Although learning to play music does not teach skills that seem directly relevant to most careers, the results suggest that music may engender what educators refer to as ‘learning to learn.’”

The study involved 40 high school students from low-income schools in the city of Chicago and it consisted of two to three hours of band classes each week. The study is among growing literature on music’s role in academic performance and language skills, and confirms previous studies that teens’ brains are malleable; that brain’s neuroplasticity means that teens can still respond well to interventions such as the one carried out by Kraus and her colleagues.

For the study’s purposes, one group of adolescent students participated in a group music training class and the other group participated in a Junior Reserve Office Training Corps program with a focus on fitness.

Kraus examined how the teenage brain encoded speech before the intervention and three years later. She discovered through a series of phonological and linguistic tasks (such as the repeating back of lists of digits or non-English words) that band music training accelerated brain neurodevelopment. That is, the musically trained participants reached adult cortical development faster than those participating in the fitness program.

Reporting on the study, Medical Daily explains that the findings are particularly significant for students from low-income backgrounds as more often than not their language skills development falls behind that of their wealthier peers.

US News reports that even though before the study the researchers found no major brain differences among students, the latter weren’t randomly assigned the music training, but voluntarily choose the music training, suggesting an already more plastic brain.

Kraus’s previous research suggests that engaging in music-making activities improves non-music related skills including language, reading, attention and memory. The theory is that the way the brain receives and encodes pitch and rhythm differences is what allows people to interpret speech and language more efficiently.