Music Training Linked to Enhanced Verbal Skills

See article at http://tinyurl.com/3ao8mu
Music Training Linked To Enhanced Verbal Skills

Because the brainstem offers a common pathway that processes music and
speech, the study suggests that musical training conceivably could help
children develop literacy skills and combat literacy disorders.

by Staff Writers

Evanston IL (SPX) Sep 25, 2007

Music training, with its pervasive effects on the nervous system’s
ability to process sight and sound, may be more important for enhancing
verbal communication skills than learning phonics, according to a new
Northwestern University study. Musicians use all of their senses to
practice and perform a musical piece. They watch other musicians, read
lips, and feel, hear and perform music, thus, engaging multi-sensory
skills. As it turns out, the brain’s alteration from the multi-sensory
process of music training enhances the same communication skills needed
for speaking and reading, the study concludes.

“Audiovisual processing was much enhanced in musicians’ brains compared
to non-musician counterparts, and musicians also were more sensitive to
subtle changes in both speech and music sounds,” said Nina Kraus, Hugh
Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and Neurobiology and
director of Northwestern’s Auditory

Neuroscience Laboratory, where the work was performed. “Our study
indicates that the high-level cognitive processing of music affects
automatic processing that occurs early in the processing stream and
fundamentally shapes sensory circuitry.”

The nervous system’s multi-sensory processing begins in the brainstem,
an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain previously thought to be
relatively unmalleable.

“Musicians have a specialized neural system for processing sight and
sound in the brainstem, the neural gateway to the brain,” said
Northwestern doctoral student Gabriella Musacchia, lead author of the study.

For many years, scientists believed that the brainstem simply relayed
sensory information from the ear to the cortex, a part of the brain
known for cognitive processing.

Because the brainstem offers a common pathway that processes music and
speech, the study suggests that musical training conceivably could help
children develop literacy skills and combat literacy disorders.

The study, “Musicians Have Enhanced Subcortical Auditory and Audiovisual
Processing of Speech and Music,” will be published online the week of
Sept. 24 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The co-investigators are Gabriella Musacchia, Mikko Sams, Erika Skoe and
Nina Kraus.

Study participants, who had varying amounts of musical training or none
at all, wore scalp electrodes that measured their multi-sensory brain
responses to audio and video of a cellist playing and a person speaking.

The data showed that the number of years that a person practiced music
strongly correlated with enhanced basic sound encoding mechanisms that
also are relevant for speech. Beyond revealing super-accurate pitch
coding vital to recognizing a speaker’s identity and emotional intent,
the study showed enhanced transcription of timbre and timing cues common
to speech and music.

“The study underscores the extreme malleability of auditory function by
music training and the potential of music to tune our neural response to
the world around us, ” Kraus said.

Previous research has shown brainstem transcription errors in some
children with literacy disorders.

Since music is inherently more accessible to children than phonics, the
new research suggests, music training may have considerable benefits for
engendering literacy skills.

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