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Playing An Instrument Helps Memory and Hearing

May 12, 2011

Researchers found that playing a musical instrument can help keep memories active and hearing working.

A new study found that musical training helps the brain to be more adaptable to aging and make adjustments for any decline in the ability to remember or ability to separate speech from background noise.

The research adds further weight to the benefits of musical training, which is also associated with greater learning ability in the classroom.

“Lifelong musical training appears to confer advantages in at least two important functions known to decline with age ““ memory and the ability to hear speech in noise,” Northwestern University’s Dr. Nina Kraus, who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

“Difficulty hearing speech in noise is among the most common complaints of older adults, but age-related hearing loss only partially accounts for this impediment that can lead to social isolation and depression.”

“It’s well known that adults with virtually the same hearing profile can differ dramatically in their ability to hear speech in noise.”

Researchers at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory made 18 musicians and 19 non-musicians between the ages of 45 to 65 carry out a number of tests for speech in noise, memory and processing ability.

The musicians beat the non-musician group in all tests except one.

Kraus said the experience of extracting meaningful sounds from a complex soundscape enhances the development of auditory skills.

“The neural enhancements we see in musically-trained individuals are not just an amplifying or ‘volume knob’ effect,” Kraus said in a statement.

“Playing music engages their ability to extract relevant patterns, including the sound of their own instrument, harmonies and rhythms.”

Kraus said music training “fine-tunes” the nervous system.

“Sound is the stock in trade of the musician in much the same way that a painter of portraits is keenly attuned to the visual attributes of the paint that will convey his or her subject,” she said in a statement.

“If the materials that you work with are sound, then it is reasonable to suppose that all of your faculties involved with taking it in, holding it in memory and relating physically to it should be sharpened.”

“Music experience bolsters the elements that combat age-related communication problems.”

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

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