Children from families of lower socio-economic status process sound less efficiently in part because of noisier environments and also due to linguistic deprivation or not hearing enough complex words, sentences and concepts.

Music training may be one way to boost how the brain processes sound to remove the interference.

"Speech processing efficiency is closely linked to reading, since reading requires the ability to segment speech strings into individual sound units," explained study lead author Nina Kraus from Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University.

"Spending time learning to play a musical instrument can have a profound effect on how your nervous system works," Kraus said.

Unlike most music studies which often estimate brain activity using paper and pencil tests, Kraus directly assessed the brain by strategically placing electrode wires with button sensors on the students' heads to capture the brain's responses.

"We also found that in a group of highly-motivated students, small variations in music engagement attendance and class participation predicted the strength of neural processing after music training," the authors emphasized.

The type of music class may also be important. The neural processing of students who played instruments in class improved more than the children who attended the music appreciation group, concluded the study that appeared online in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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