Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Taking Up Music So You Can Hear

Date:
August 27, 2009
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Anyone with an MP3 device has a notion of the majesty of music, of the primal place it holds in the human imagination. But musical training should not be seen simply as stuff of the soul -- a frill that has to go when school budgets dry up, according to a new study. It is the first demonstration of musical training offsetting the deleterious effects of background noise, and the implications are provocative.

Musicians -- trained to hear sounds embedded in a rich network of melodies and harmonies -- are primed to understand speech in a noisy background, say in a restaurant, classroom or plane.
Credit: iStockphoto

Anyone with an MP3 device -- just about every man, woman and child on the planet today, it seems -- has a notion of the majesty of music, of the primal place it holds in the human imagination.

But musical training should not be seen simply as stuff of the soul -- a frill that has to go when school budgets dry up, according to a new Northwestern University study.

The study shows that musicians -- trained to hear sounds embedded in a rich network of melodies and harmonies -- are primed to understand speech in a noisy background, say in a restaurant, classroom or plane.

It is the first demonstration of musical training offsetting the deleterious effects of background noise, and the implications are provocative.

"The study points to a highly pragmatic side of music's magic," said Nina Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and Neurobiology and director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, where the research was done.

The findings strongly support the potential therapeutic and rehabilitation use of musical training to address auditory processing and communication disorders throughout the life span.

Hearing speech in noise is difficult for everyone. But the difficulty is particularly acute for older adults, who are likely to have hearing and memory loss, and for poor readers who have normal hearing but whose nervous systems poorly transcribe sounds that ultimately are critical to good reading skills.

"Many older adults will say, 'I can hear what you're saying, but I don't understand you,'" Kraus said. "So they might have a little bit of a hearing loss, but often not enough to warrant the difficulty that a lot of older adults report."

Such populations could benefit from the reordering of the nervous system that occurs with musical training, according to the study. Because the brain changes with experience, musicians have better-tuned circuitry -- the pitch, timing and spectral elements of sound are represented more strongly and with greater precision in their nervous systems.

"Musical training makes musicians really good at picking out melodies, the bass line, the sound of their own instruments from complex sounds," Kraus said. Now, for the first time, this study has confirmed that such fine tuning of the nervous system also makes musicians highly adept at translating speech in noise.

The finding has particular implications for hearing certain consonants which are vulnerable to misinterpretation by the brain and are a big problem for some poor readers in a noisy environment. The brain's unconscious faulty interpretation of sounds makes a big difference in how words ultimately will be read.

Thirty-one study participants, with normal hearing and a mean age of 23, were divided into one group with music experience and another without it. They had to listen to sentences presented in increasingly noisy conditions and repeat back what they heard.

Better perception in noise was linked with better working memory and tone discrimination ability. The results imply that musical training enhances the ability to hear speech in challenging listening environments by strengthening auditory memory and the representation of important acoustic features.

In one of the tests, for example, participants had to repeat back "The square peg will settle in the round hole." Such longer sentences that are syntactically correct but lack familiar cues measure working memory as well as the ability to distinguish sounds in noise.

The Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern has helped establish the relationship between sound encoding in the brain and linguistic abilities by showing that the very neural sound transcription processes that are deficient in children with dyslexia are enhanced in people with musical experience. Based on this collective work, poor readers may show greater benefits from training programs that include music as well as speech sounds.

By reinforcing the pervasive effects that musical experience has on sound-processing abilities, Kraus stressed, this study underscores the importance of music education being more accessible to the general population.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Alexandra Parbery-Clark, Erika Skoe, Carrie Lam and Nina Kraus. Musician Enhancement for Speech-in-Noise. Ear and Hearing, (in press)

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Taking Up Music So You Can Hear." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090817142857.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2009, August 27). Taking Up Music So You Can Hear. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090817142857.htm
Northwestern University. "Taking Up Music So You Can Hear." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090817142857.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Electrical Stimulation Boosts Brain Function, Study Says

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) Researchers found an improvement in memory and learning function in subjects who received electric pulses to their brains. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins