A new study suggests music training for kids and teens helps improve their brains’ responses to sound and sharpen learning skills.

“Although learning to play music does not teach skills that seem directly relevant to most careers... Music may engender what educators refer to as ‘learning to learn’,” says Nina Kraus, education researcher at Northwestern University in the US.

Her research indicates that music instruction helps enhance skills that are critical for academic success, such as hearing and language skills.

The benefits were seen during group music classes included in school curriculums, suggesting in-school training – beginning even as late as in high school - accelerates neurodevelopment.

Kraus and colleagues recruited 40 students in their first year of high school shortly before the year started, following them longitudinally until their senior year.

Nearly half the students enrolled in band classes, which involved two to three hours a week of instrumental group music instruction in school. The rest enrolled in junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), which emphasised fitness exercises during a comparable period.

Electrode recordings at the start of the study and three years later revealed that the music group showed more rapid maturation in the brain's response to sound. In addition, they demonstrated prolonged heightened brain sensitivity to sound details.

All participants improved in language skills, but the improvement was greater for those in music classes as well.

According to the authors, high school music training – which goes out of favour whenever there is a funding shortfalls - might boost brain development and improve language skills.

The stable processing of sound details, important for language skills, is known to be diminished in children raised in poverty, raising the possibility that music education may offset this negative influence on sound processing.

“Our results support the notion that the adolescent brain remains receptive to training, underscoring the importance of enrichment during the teenage years,” the authors wrote.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)