Music sharpens your brain responses.

Laboratory Equipment investigates the connection between musical training and quick brain responses:

Scientists have long known that moving to a steady beat requires synchronization between the parts of the brain responsible for hearing and movement. In the current study, Prof. Nina Kraus and Adam Tierney at Northwestern Univ. examined the relationship between the ability to keep a beat and the brain’s response to sound.

More than 100 teenagers from the Chicago area participated in the Kraus Lab study, where they were instructed to listen and tap their finger along to a metronome. The teens’ tapping accuracy was computed based on how closely their taps aligned in time with the “tic-toc” of the metronome. In a second test, the researchers used a technique called electroencephalography (EEG) to record brainwaves from a major brain hub for sound processing as the teens listened to the synthesized speech sound “da” repeated periodically over a 30-minute period. The researchers then calculated how similarly the nerve cells in this region responded each time the “da” sound was repeated.

“Across this population of adolescents, the more accurate they were at tapping along to the beat, the more consistent their brains’ response to the ‘da’ syllable was,” Kraus says. Because previous studies show a link between reading ability and beat-keeping ability as well as reading ability and the consistency of the brain’s response to sound, Kraus explained that these new findings show that hearing is a common basis for these associations.

“Rhythm is inherently a part of music and language,” Kraus said. “It may be that musical training, with an emphasis on rhythmic skills, exercises the auditory-system, leading to strong sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential in learning to read.”

In a way, this is kind of a no-duh finding – the more you listen to sounds, the more you recognize and identify sounds. But still, the connection to reading is kinda cool.