Music training for the development of auditory skills


The effects of music training in relation to brain plasticity have caused excitement, evident from the popularity of books on this topic among scientists and the general public. Neuroscience research has shown that music training leads to changes throughout the auditory system that prime musicians for listening challenges beyond music processing. This effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness. Therefore, the role of music in shaping individual development deserves consideration.

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Figure 1: Neural representation of pitch, timing and timbre in the human auditory brainstem.
Figure 2: Transfer effect and selective enhancement in musicians.


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This work is supported by the US National Science Foundation (grants SBE-0842376 and BCS-092275). We thank J. Song for her contribution towards the artwork and T. Nicol, D. Strait and K. Chan for their helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nina Kraus.

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Auditory stream segregation

The ability to piece together discrete perceptual events into streams.

Contour and interval information

Aspects of melodic information in music that are related to contour (upward or downward patterns of pitch changes) and interval (pitch distances between successive notes).

Frequency-following response

A neuronal ensemble response that phase-locks to the incoming stimulus.

Fundamental frequency

The lowest frequency of a voice, determined by the rate of vibration of the vocal folds. It generally corresponds to the voice's pitch.

Harmonic components in speech

Aspects of speech that depend on the rate of vibration of the vocal cords. A voice is composed of a fundamental tone and a series of higher frequencies that are called harmonics.

Magnetic source imaging

The detection of the changing magnetic fields that are associated with brain activity, and their subsequent overlaying onto magnetic resonance images to identify the precise source of the signal.

Mismatch negativity

A cortical event-related potential, measured using electroencephalography, that is elicited when a sequence of repeated stimuli (standards) is interrupted by an infrequent stimulus that deviates in sensory characteristics, such as intensity, frequency or duration.

Onset response

A neuronal ensemble response to the onset of sound.

Oto-acoustic emissions

Sounds that are generated in the inner ear, which can be recorded non-invasively. They serve as acoustic signatures of the cochlear biomechanical activity.

Pitch contours

Pitch changes that minimally contrast words in a tone language, such as Mandarin Chinese.

Time-varying components in speech

Dynamically changing acoustic events (for example, formant transitions) that correspond to articulatory changes during speech production.

Voice tagging

The ability to use voice pitch as a cue to 'tag' a familiar talker amid fluctuating background noise.

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Kraus, N., Chandrasekaran, B. Music training for the development of auditory skills. Nat Rev Neurosci 11, 599–605 (2010).

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