Saturday, February 20, 2010

Research confirms brain link for words, music


Research confirms brain link for words, music
Intensive musical therapy may help improve speech in stroke patients
By Randolph E. Schmid
The Associated Press
updated 8:40 p.m. PT, Sat., Feb. 20, 2010

SAN DIEGO - Words and music, such natural partners that it seems obvious they go together. Now science is confirming that those abilities are linked in the brain, a finding that might even lead to better stroke treatments.

Studies have found overlap in the brain's processing of language and instrumental music, and new research suggests that intensive musical therapy may help improve speech in stroke patients, researchers said Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In addition, researchers said, music education can help children with developmental dyslexia or autism more accurately use speech.

People who have suffered a severe stroke on the left side of the brain and cannot speak can sometimes learn to communicate through singing, Gottfried Schlaug, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School told the meeting.

"Music making is a multisensory experience, activating links to several parts of the brain," Schlaug said.

Schlaug showed a video of one patient who could only make meaningless sounds learning to say "I am thirsty," by singing the words, and another was able to sing "happy birthday."


Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, reported that new studies show that musical training enhances the brain's ability to do other things.

For example, she said, the trained brain gets better at detecting patterns in sounds, so that musicians are better at picking out the voice of a friend in a noisy restaurant.

"Musical experience improves abilities important in daily life," she said. "Playing an instrument may help youngsters better process speech in noisy classrooms and more accurately interpret the nuances of language that are conveyed by subtle changes in the human voice," Kraus said.

When people first learn to talk and when they talk to babies they often use musical patterns in their speech, she noted.

"People's hearing systems are fine-tuned by the experiences they've had with sound throughout their lives. Music training is not only beneficial for processing music stimuli. We've found that years of music training may also improve how sounds are processed for language and emotion," Kraus said in prepared remarks.


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