In the Kraus lab at Northwestern University, the skills that interest us most are reading and speech-in-noise (SIN) perception. Significantly, musicians excel at these very activities. Our research has led us to measuring deep-brain electroencephalograph (EEG) in response to a variety of complex stimuli, and we
have found correlates in this subcortical activity to reading and listening-in-noise skills. A logical step was to look at the interaction between SIN perception and reading and the changes in biology brought about by active engagement with music.
As we learn more about the auditory brainstem response to speech and musical sounds, one of the more interesting findings is that the same neural processes that are diminished in poor readers and individuals with difficulty hearing in noise are the same processes that are enhanced in musicians. The behavioral, cognitive, cortical, and subcortical advantages bestowed by musical training, serve to promote musical training as a logical strategy for improving basic sound transcription via the reinforcement of reciprocal subcortical-cortical processing interactions brought about, at least in part, by the strengthening of auditory memory and attention. This improved sound transcription, in turn, is a building block of phonological processing, reading, and the extraction of speech from background noise. Further work also can address the extent to which musical practice may serve as protection and remediation against hearing-loss or age-induced communication difficulties and a means to engender the formation of sound-to-meaning relationships that are so critical to human communication. The brainstem response can serve as a potent efficacy measure of music-based education due to its fidelity to the stimulus, its individual-subject reliability, its experience-dependent malleability and its selective nature.