Said MIT cognitive neuroscientist John Gabrieli: “There’s evidence that early exposure to piano practice enhances the processing of sounds that extend not only from music, but also into language.”
For the study, researchers sorted 74 Mandarin-speaking Chinese kindergarteners, all of whom were either 4 or 5 years old, into three groups. One group took three 45-minute piano lessons each week, one group got the same amount of additional reading instruction, and the final group did neither.
After six months, the groups showed no significant differences in general measures of cognitive ability — things like IQ, memory and attention span — but the piano group had distinguished itself in one key way.
Even compared to their peers in the extra reading group, children who took piano lessons were significantly better at distinguishing between spoken words that differed by only one consonant, Gabrieli explains. (Both the piano and reading groups performed better than the control group at differentiating between vowels.) This, he says, suggests that piano lessons affect a crucial and complex element of language processing.
Interestingly, the effect is “especially salient” for Mandarin speakers since the spoken language relies so heavily on subtle differences in tone. But the research found that musical ability may offer similar benefits to speakers of non-tonal languages, such as English.