Medical Mysteries of Music

Learning Music Could Help With Literacy. Listen to this NPR Podcast

Not only is music interesting to listen to, but its effects on the human brain is fascinating. Music can help elderly people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. There’s the popular hypothesis called the Mozart Effect that suggests early childhood exposure to classical music has a beneficial effect on mental development and that listening to Mozart’s music might improve your spatial-temporal reasoning, at least for a short period of time.

NPR recently did a “long listen” on music and the brain. One amazing story discussed in the podcast is about research conducted by neurobiologist Nina Kraus from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

According to NPR:

“Kraus found that kids who took music lessons for two years didn’t just get better at playing the trombone or violin; playing music also helped their brains process language. Consonants and vowels became clearer, allowing the brain to make sense of them more quickly”.

Although she is based out of Illinois, Kraus studied children affiliated with the Los Angeles-based non-profit Harmony Project, which teaches music to children from low-income families.

NPR notes that while listening to Mozart is a good idea, but will not have the same remarkable effects as actually playing it: “To be clear, simply playing Mozart for your kids will not have the same effect. It’s still a fine idea. A little Mozart never hurt anyone, but Kraus found that the benefit comes from playing the harpsichord, not listening to it”.

The second story that the NPR long listen discusses also centres around Kraus.

“This time, Kraus and her team developed an auditory test that can be given to children before they’re old enough to read but that can predict, with remarkable accuracy, future literacy trouble”.

The general idea is that children who struggle to process language and catalogue speech sounds will likely have difficulty with reading as they get older. This test could be hugely beneficial to help children before they fall behind in school.

In other words, if you combine the findings from these two stories, children who have difficulty processing language would probably benefit quite a lot from taking music lessons.

You can listen to the full podcast here.

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