Can Learning to Play a Musical Instrument Improve Your Hearing?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a popular American poet in the 19th century, once said: “Music is the universal language of mankind.” A very true sentiment if you really stop to think about it.

Music can lift our spirits, or comfort us during times of trouble. It’s easy to appreciate the art behind a beautiful piece of music. Music spans generations and crosses cultural divides. It binds us all together in this experience of life.

For those of us fortunate enough to play a musical instrument, we can generate music on demand. Learning an instrument is known to have many benefits. It can help with communication, time management, math skills, and more.

But can learning to play an instrument improve your hearing?

The Science of Music

Playing a piece of music is an involved and complicated process. Musicians need to be able to see and read the notes they are playing. They also need to be able to listen to what is being played. Listening to musical cadences is a skill that musicians are using constantly.

This ability can give musicians unique abilities. Musicians are often more capable of remembering words or sounds that they just heard. This is especially true when compared to non-musicians.

Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology, physiology and otolaryngology at Northwestern University, Illinois, conducted a study looking at how sounds are processed and detected. The study showed that in people with hearing loss, musicians were better at detecting, remembering, and processing sounds.

”Part of what you are doing as a musician is listening for meaning, harmonies and the sound of your instrument. Musicians outperform non-musicians in remembering what they’ve heard, and this skill is needed to hear in noisy environments”, Nina Kraus said.

Playing an Instrument Improves Hearing

Throughout the study, Professor Nina Kraus looked at 18 musicians and 19 non-musicians. Aged between 45-65, all participants had a hearing loss.

Kraus tested their ability to hear in noisy environments. Using electrodes on the scalp, she monitored the electrical activity in the brain, in response to sounds.

”The nerves in the brains of musicians responded more clearly and precisely than non-musicians. By learning to play an instrument, a person can develop auditory skills that improve the ability to hear sound and speech”, Nina Kraus highlighted.

The study focused on people who had been playing an instrument since childhood. However, there is evidence that learning to play an instrument later in life also has its benefits.

Musicians are required to focus on a singular source of sound, regardless of the level of noise in their environment. This skill-set trains our brains, and can result in improved hearing in noisy environments. If you’ve ever been tempted to learn a new musical instrument, now you have a great reason!

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