WEDNESDAY, Aug. 22, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Adults who studied music during childhood have an improved ability to process sounds and are better listeners, according to a new study.
Northwestern University researchers who looked at 45 adults found that compared to those with no musical training during childhood, those with even a few years of musical training as children had enhanced brain responses to complex sounds. Most in the study had begun music lessons at about age 9.
This made them more effective at hearing the fundamental frequency, the study found. This is the lowest frequency in sound and is crucial for speech and music perception, and enables recognition of sounds in complex and noisy hearing settings.
"Thus, musical training as children makes better listeners later in life," Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology, physiology and communication sciences, said in a university news release.
"Based on what we already know about the ways that music helps shape the brain, the study suggests that short-term music lessons may enhance lifelong listening and learning," she added.
The participants were divided into three groups: those with no musical training, those with one to five years of lessons, and those with six to 11 years.
Many children take music lessons for a few years, but few continue with formal music instruction beyond middle or high school.
"We help address a question on every parent's mind: 'Will my child benefit if she plays music for a short while but then quits training?'" Kraus said.
The study was published in the Aug. 22 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
While the research showed an association between musical training and better listening skills, it does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The American Music Therapy Association talks about other benefits of music.