Music Lessons apparently make you a better listener

Do you feel your child’s violin or piano lessons were a complete waste of money and effort? Perhaps you think that you’re own instrumental lessons were a bad idea? Well apparently not. All those who learn an instrument for even a short period of time, will have benefited in more ways than originally thought according to a new survey (Journal of Neuroscience). Recent research at Northwestern University in Chicago has proved that even taking music lessons for a short time makes humans better listeners. Those who have studied music are able to pick up conversations in loud environments with ease, and are, therefore, more adept at discerning social cues.

Scientists looked at 45 adults of simliar age and intelligence and put them into 3 groups; those with no musical tuition, those with 1-5 years of music lessons and finally those with 6-11 years of lessons. Most of those taking part in the study had commenced music lessons around the age of 9.

The researchers listened to a series of sounds while electrodes on the participant’s scalp measured their brain responses. Sounds are tiny fluctuations in air pressure which are detected in the ear and travel down the ear canal as electrical impulses to the brain’s temporal lobe, where they are processed. Although each sound is made up of many frequencies the number which make it all the way throught the auditory system varies from person to person.

They found that even those with a few years of musical training as children had enhanced brain responses to complex sounds. This made them more effective at hearing the fundamental frequency which is the lowest frequency in sound and is crucial for speech and music perception. It enables the recognition of sounds in noisy settings.

According to Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology, physiology and communication sciences, ‘musical training as children makes us better listeners later in life’. She also commented ‘based on what we already know about the ways that music helps shape the brain, the study suggests short-term music lessons may enhance lifelong listening and learning’.

Many children take lessons but most quit by secondary school, so this study will be music to the ears of all parents who feel that they have paid for a year or two of expensive music tuition and have little to show for it.

I have already written about the huge benefits of studying a musical instrument many times here on my blog. I still feel that all children should have the opportunity to learn an instrument at school for one year for free. It would be highly beneficial in so many ways, as this survey proves.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Thank you for your kind comments – they are much appreciated.

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