For many years, parents have encouraged their children to take up a musical instrument. Besides having exposure to the arts, a range of studies and reports have been published showing a whole host of benefits: an increase in auditory skills, or an improved performance in mathematics in school.

A new study conducted by researchers at North-Western University has added a new benefit to the list: advanced brain wave development that is seen to continue far beyond the end of the lessons themselves. The New York Times reported:

Researchers at North-Western University recorded the auditory brainstem responses of college students – that is to say, their electrical brain waves – in response to complex sounds. The group of students who reported musical training in childhood had more robust responses – their brains were better able to pick out essential elements, like pitch, in the complex sounds when they were tested. And this was true even if the lessons had ended years ago.

Indeed, scientists are puzzling out the connections between musical training in childhood and language-based learning – for instance, reading. Learning to play an instrument may confer some unexpected benefits, recent studies suggest.

We aren’t talking here about the “Mozart effect,” the claim that listening to classical music can improve people’s performance on tests. Instead, these are studies of the effects of active engagement and discipline. This kind of musical training improves the brain’s ability to discern the components of sound – the pitch, the timing and the timbre.

“To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections,” said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at North-Western University. “Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument.”