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Taking up music so you can hear
Date:8/17/2009

uitry -- the pitch, timing and spectral elements of sound are represented more strongly and with greater precision in their nervous systems.

"Musical training makes musicians really good at picking out melodies, the bass line, the sound of their own instruments from complex sounds," Kraus said. Now, for the first time, this study has confirmed that such fine tuning of the nervous system also makes musicians highly adept at translating speech in noise.

The finding has particular implications for hearing certain consonants which are vulnerable to misinterpretation by the brain and are a big problem for some poor readers in a noisy environment. The brain's unconscious faulty interpretation of sounds makes a big difference in how words ultimately will be read.

Thirty-one study participants, with normal hearing and a mean age of 23, were divided into one group with music experience and another without it. They had to listen to sentences presented in increasingly noisy conditions and repeat back what they heard.

Better perception in noise was linked with better working memory and tone discrimination ability. The results imply that musical training enhances the ability to hear speech in challenging listening environments by strengthening auditory memory and the representation of important acoustic features.

In one of the tests, for example, participants had to repeat back "The square peg will settle in the round hole." Such longer sentences that are syntactically correct but lack familiar cues measure working memory as well as the ability to distinguish sounds in noise.

The Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern has helped establish the relationship between sound encoding in the brain and linguistic abilities by showing that the very neural sound transcription processes that are deficient in children with dyslexia are enhanced in people with musical experience. Based on this collective work, poor readers may s
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Contact: Pat Vaughan Tremmel
p-tremmel@northwestern.edu
847-491-4892
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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