Musical Training Found to be Beneficial to Speech Perception

Anna Tarasova ‘19

Figure 1. Piano training may improve sensitivity to tones.

Music is an integral part of both ancient and modern society and culture. It has long been used for a variety of communicative and expressive purposes. Recent studies have suggested that musical training may be associated with an improvement in linguistic abilities in childhood. The mechanism responsible for this relationship is uncertain, although it may be due to the acoustic similarity of speech sounds and music. Dr. Yun Nan and her research team at the Beijing Normal University have conducted a study exploring the association between linguistic enhancement and musical training.

74 children aged 4 to 5 years were separated into three groups. The first was assigned to a 6-month-long piano training, the second to a 6-month-long reading training, and the last to no training as the control group. The groups were matched by socioeconomic status as well as general cognitive measures. The researchers measured the effects of the trainings on pitch processing, general cognitive abilities, and language skills. The results showed that both the piano training group and the reading training group improved in tasks of word discrimination and pitch perception significantly more than the control group. However, close examination of the word discrimination task using electroencephalogram (EEG) technology yielded the result that the piano training specifically greatly improved neural sensitivity to lexical tones. Thus, the researchers propose that the piano training results in a finer ability to distinguish between sounds, and so improves speech perception. They suggest three main factors that may be responsible for this. The first is that the sound processing required by piano training is finer that that required by reading training. The second is that piano training maps the sound through multiple inputs, whereas the focus of reading is to connect the speech sound and its semantic meaning. The third is that the piano training may have been more engaging and rewarding than the reading training for the children.



  1. Y. Nan et. al., Piano training enhances the neural processing of pitch and improves speech perception in Mandarin-speaking children. PNAS Latest Articles (2018). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1808412115.  
  2. Image retrieved from:

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