I recently began taking a beginner’s Italian class. (I’m sure you are already wondering what this has to do with music lessons, but bear with me.) I often hear Italian spoken around me because I nanny for a native Italian family. However, besides hearing this family speak and knowing a few simple phrases (ciao, buona notte, grazie, to name a few), I am not familiar with the language in any real way.
My first Italian class focused on pronunciation. It came as quite a surprise to me, but I turned out to be the most proficient student in this area. By the way, I’m not trying to brag—there is a very good reason why language comes to me naturally. As my instructor remarked, I must have picked up on subtleties of the language from the family without even realizing it. However, I am convinced that there’s another reason I was able to perceive these subtleties, and that is because of my musical training.
Traditionally, music and language have been treated as completely different faculties of the brain, in which speech is associated with the left hemisphere and music is associated with the right (Lutz Jäncke, The Relationship Between Music and Language). Over the years, however, as techniques of monitoring brain functions have evolved, scientists have discovered a link between the two faculties—a link, perhaps, that we have always known intuitively.
When your brain absorbs new information (like when you learn a new language), neurons communicate with each other by sending off electrical pulses—these are brainwaves. In a new study that appeared in The Journal of Neuroscience, neurobiologist Nina Kraus studied these brainwaves in children when they processed music and speech. Interestingly, she found that the brain uses similar circuits to process both. Furthermore, she discovered that children who learned an instrument for at least two years not only improved their musical ability, but also experienced an increased ability to process language.
So even if you do not plan on learning a new language anytime soon, it is encouraging and even a bit mind-boggling to realize that your brain is capable of much more change than you can even begin to comprehend. When you set out to learn a musical instrument, you are making a commitment to pay attention to the depth and richness of sound, but also to the nuances of life, which you might never have noticed otherwise.
Amy C. teaches beginner to intermediate piano lessons in Ann Arbor, MI. She specializes in working with young children (5-10 age range). Learn more about Amy here!
Photo by Context Travel