Those ubiquitous wires connecting listeners to you-name-the-sounds from invisible MP3 players -- whether of Bach, or any music -- only hint at music's effect on the soul throughout the ages.
Now a data-driven review by Northwestern University researchers that published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience pulls together converging research from the scientific literature linking musical training to learning that spills over to skills including language, speech, memory, attention and even vocal emotion. The science covered comes from labs all over the world, from scientists of varying scientific philosophies, using a wide range of research methods.
scientists use the term neuroplasticity to describe the brain's ability to adapt and change as a result of training and experience over the course of a person's life. The studies covered in the Northwestern review offer a model of neuroplasticity, Kraus said.
The research strongly suggests that the neural connections made during musical training also prime the brain for other aspects of human communication.
Nina Kraus, lead author of the Nature perspective, the Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and Neurobiology and director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory says, A musician's brain selectively enhances information-bearing elements in sound,
"In a beautiful interrelationship between sensory and cognitive processes, the nervous system makes associations between complex sounds and what they mean." The efficient sound-to-meaning connections are important not only for music but for other aspects of communication, she said.
And musicians trained to hear sounds embedded in a rich network of melodies and harmonies are primed to understand speech in a noisy background. They exhibit both enhanced cognitive and sensory abilities that give them a distinct advantage for processing speech in challenging listening environments compared with non-musicians.
Children with learning disorders are particularly vulnerable to the deleterious effects of background noise, according to the article. "Music training seems to strengthen the same neural processes that often are deficient in individuals with developmental dyslexia or who have difficulty hearing speech in noise."
"The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development, " the researchers conclude.