Front Psychol 2013 Dec 6;4:855
High school music classes enhance the neural processing of speech
Tierney A1,2, Krizman J1,2,3, Skoe E1,2, Johnston K4, Kraus N1,2,4,5,6,7
1Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA; 2 Dept. of Communication Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA; 3 Bilingualism and Psycholinguistics Research Group, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA; 4 Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, Chicago, IL, USA; 5 Institute for Neuroscience, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA; 6 Dept. of Neurobiology and Physiology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA; 7 Dept. of Otolaryngology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Should music be a priority in public education? One argument for teaching music in school is that private music instruction relates to enhanced language abilities and neural function. However, the directionality of this relationship is unclear and it is unknown whether school-based music training can produce these enhancements. Here we show that 2 years of group music classes in high school enhance the neural encoding of speech. To tease apart the relationships between music and neural function, we tested high school students participating in either music or fitness-based training. These groups were matched at the onset of training on neural timing, reading ability, and IQ. Auditory brainstem responses were collected to a synthesized speech sound presented in background noise. After 2 years of training, the neural responses of the music training group were earlier than at pre-training, while the neural timing of students in the fitness training group was unchanged. These results represent the strongest evidence to date that in-school music education can cause enhanced speech encoding. The neural benefits of musical training are, therefore, not limited to expensive private instruction early in childhood but can be elicited by cost-effective group instruction during adolescence.