Playing musical instruments may improve reading
Now, what about listening vs playing?
Learning to play a musical instrument could help to improve children's reading and their ability to listen in noisy classrooms, according to new research.
The part of the brain that interprets sound, known as the auditory cortex, responds faster in people with musical training and is better primed to pick out subtle patterns from the huge volumes of information that flood into the brain from our senses.
Neuroscientists have found that musicians benefit from heightened brain activity that allows them to process information from their eyes and ears more efficiently than non-musicians.
They found that the part of the brain that interprets sound, known as the auditory cortex, responds faster in people with musical training and is better primed to pick out subtle patterns from the huge volumes of information that flood into the brain from our senses.
Professor Nina Kraus, a neuroscientist and amateur musician at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has also found that this part of the brain plays a crucial role in reading.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego on Saturday, she called for music to become a more important part of school syllabuses to help children develop better reading and language skills.
She said: "There is a strong argument for more musical education, especially in schools.
"Our eyes and ears take in millions of bits of information every second and it is not possible for the brain to process all of that, so the sensory systems in our brains are primed to tune into regularities or patterns in the signals it receives.
"People who are musically trained are better at picking up these patterns because they learn to recognise notes and pitches within melodies and harmonies.
"The better you are at picking up these patterns in music, the better reader you are. This makes sense as letters and words on a page are really just patterns."
Professor Kraus and her team have used a method known as electroencephalography, which measures electrical activity in the brain, to examine how musicians and non-musicians brains respond to different stimulus.
She found that people who are better at picking out harmonies and timing in sounds are also better at reading.
Preliminary findings, which are still to be published, have also shown that musicians are better at reading.
She is currently conducting a major study of children in schools in Chicago to test whether musical training can improve their reading skills.
She has also shown that musicians are better at picking out speech in noisy environments such as restaurants and classrooms because their brains are primed to distinguish notes within melodies and harmonies.
She said: "Musical experience can enhance everyday listening and language tasks. We are making new strides in understanding what changes happen in the brain with musical experience."
Dr Aniruddh Patel, a neuroscientist at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California, added: "Music and language have a lot more interactions than anyone had previously thought and have real implications for treating people with language problems."