By Natalie Pascale, Rubicon International

Dr. Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology at Northwestern University, shared her recent findings linking musical ability and speech pattern recognition during her keynote speech for the  American Association for the Advancement of Science. In press interviews prior to the presentation, Kraus and her colleagues advised that music education in K-12 schools be further developed, despite the reality that many schools are choosing to completely eliminate music education due to budget cuts in our current economic state.

Kraus’ and other neuroscientists’ research has proven that musical training enhances the brain stem’s sensitivity to speech sounds. The research is the first of its kind to concretely establish a link between musical ability and speech recognition.

Musically Trained People Are More In Tune with the Nuances of Sound

Conducted at the Northwestern University’s Auditory and Neuroscience Laboratory, using state-of-the-art technology, Kraus’ research was carried out by comparing the brain responses of musically-trained and untrained people. Kraus studied how the brain responded to variable sounds (such as background noise in a large, crowded room) and to predictable sounds (such as a parent’s voice). She found that those who were musically trained were much quicker to detect or respond to the nuances of each situation, meaning that they had a much easier time telling the difference between speech and background noise.

“People’s hearing systems are fine-tuned by the experiences they’ve had with sound throughout their lives,” Kraus explained. “Music training is not only beneficial for processing music stimuli. We’ve found that years of music training may also improve how sounds are processed for language and emotion.”

Kraus also stresses the benefit of playing musical instruments for children with learning disabilities, like developmental dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, or autism. Her findings support earlier research that suggest that auditory training would benefit children with brainstem sound encoding anomalies.

Previously, Kraus and her colleagues found that the ability to distinguish auditory patterns was linked to reading ability and the ability to distinguish speech patterns immersed in noise. Kraus is also known for developing the clinical technology BioMARK , which analyzes the neural processing of sound and helps diagnose auditory processing disorders in children.

To view Kraus’ recently published research, visit the Auditory and Neuroscience Laboratory’s publications page .  The keynote speech may be viewed here.

Music Education: What Can Classroom Teachers Do?

As music education programs are cut in some schools, it can be challenging for classroom teachers to find ways to incorporate music into the classroom, especially if they do not have much experience with teaching music. Here are a few suggestions from our music educators:

  • Identify short and long-term goals for integrated learning experiences with music
  • Develop multi-sensory experiences: students often learn more effectively if the three main sensory modes are used together (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste)
  • Relate music to the students’ personal lives
  • With younger children, emphasize movement: clapping, bouncing, finger/hand gestures
  • Have older students use music to “illustrate” a concept
  • Connect math and music:  Here are some great ideas
  • Here are lesson plans for students grades k-12 to incorporate music into the classroom.

Interested in More?

Do you have a great lesson plan that incorporates music? Let us know at [email protected]!

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