Musical Brain Better at Language?
Study Suggests Music Training Boosts Sensitivity to Pitch and May Help Language Learning
March 14, 2007 -- Music lessons may train the brain in ways that make
learning language easier.
So say Northwestern University researchers including Patrick Wong, PhD, and
Nina Kraus, PhD.
Wong, Kraus, and colleagues studied 10 amateur musicians who had at least
six years of musical training, starting when they were 12 or younger.
For comparison, the researchers also studied 10 people who weren't musicians
and had no more than three years of musical training.
Participants had a simple task: Watch a videotape while wearing electrodes
on their heads to let researchers monitor brain waves in their brain stem, the
lower part of the brain. The brain stem's jobs include processing sound.
While the videotape played, the researchers piped the Mandarin Chinese word
"mi" into participants' ears every now and then. None of the
participants knew Mandarin Chinese.
The word "mi" was randomly presented in three different pitches:
high, medium, and low. Each pitch variation is a separate word with different
meaning in Mandarin Chinese.
Music and the Brain
The researchers graphed the brain waves in participants' brain stems as the
various pitches played.
They found that the brain stems of musicians were more sensitive to the
pitch variations than those of the nonmusicians.
"Even with their attention focused on the movie, and though the sounds
had no linguistic or musical meaning for them, we found our musically-trained
subjects were far better at tracking the three different tones than the
nonmusicians," Wong says in a Northwestern University news release.
Playing music involves a different part of the brain, but it appears to tune
the brain stem, Kraus notes.
The findings may partly explain musicians' skill at learning language, the
The study appears in the advance online edition of Nature