Early musical training helps brain later in life
Washington – Older adults who took music lessons as kids but haven’t actively played an instrument in years have a faster brain response to a speech sound than people who never played an instrument, a new study has suggested.
The finding suggests early musical training has a lasting, positive effect on how the brain processes sound.
As people grow older, they often experience changes in the brain that compromise hearing.
For instance, the brains of older adults show a slower response to fast-changing sounds, which is important for interpreting speech.
In the current study, Nina Kraus, PhD, and others at Northwestern University explored whether limited musical training early in life is associated with changes in the way the brain responds to sound decades later.
They found that the more years study participants spent playing instruments as youth, the faster their brains responded to a speech sound.
For the study, 44 healthy adults, aged 55-76, listened to a synthesized speech syllable (“da”) while researchers measured electrical activity in the auditory brainstem. This region of the brain processes sound and is a hub for cognitive, sensory, and reward information.
The researchers discovered that, despite none of the study participants having played an instrument in nearly 40 years, the participants who completed 4-14 years of music training early in life had the fastest response to the speech sound (on the order of a millisecond faster than those without music training).
The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.