Musical training may help the brainstem choose

Musical training may help children pay attention in class. Researchers at Northwestern University’s auditory neuroscience laboratory have been studying the translation of sound waves into brain waves. They are able to play the brain wave out loud and compare it to the sound wave that triggered it, according to Chicago Public Radio.

Those with musical training may be better at picking out an important or complicated sound in a room than those without. Doctoral student Dana Strait says: “Musicians spend so much time manipulating to the sound from their instruments, listening to the output from their teacher and mimicking it, communicating musically with other perfumers. And that can translate into how we process speech.”

It makes intuitive sense. But it is remarkable that the researchers can actually play these brain waves. I wonder what would happen if research subjects listened, let’s say, to a Donne poem several times. What happens to the brain wave sounds the second or third time around, and how does musical training affect this? I imagine musical training may affect not only how we take in what we hear the first time, but how we listen to it the second and third times.

The researchers are not saying that music alone has these effects. It is musical training–the practice of listening to music closely and grasping what is in it–that makes the difference they describe.