So the article in Scientific American’s “Mind” issue summarizes a bunch of research on the relationship between music and language — exploring the role of the sounds we heard while in the womb, our first language, and subsequent musical training.
A few studies suggest that music exposure affects the perception of “prosody” — the natural melody of speech by tuning the auditory brain stem. Alterations in speed, pitch range, volume and phrasing in speech are what convey emotion and the nuances of meaning in all languages, and children who have received musical training are at an advantage when it comes to interpreting this kind of content.
The authors cite additional research showing that music study may accelerate reading ability, since decoding the spoken and written word are related mental tasks.
Tonal languages really are tonal, according to one study that compared musically trained English-speakers to untrained English speakers as they listened to Mandarin Chinese. There was a high level of activity in the auditory stem for the musically trained English speakers, proportional to the length of study and the age at which they began.
Another study investigates perfect pitch, a skill found in 1 out of 10,000 Americans. The study divided music conservatory students at USC into three groups: English speakers, East-Asian English speakers, and East-Asians who were fluent in a tonal language. The researches tested all groups for perfect pitch and found that it was rare in the first two groups — 8 percent of those who began musical training before age 6, and 1 percent who began training between 7 and 9. In the tonal language speaking group on the other hand, 92 percent of those who started training before age 6 had perfect pitch , and 67 percent of those who began between 7 and 9.
So if the tessitura of the cello and human voice really do have so much in common, my suspicion is this:
If you put all those wires on the scalps of cellists, there’d be even *more* auditory stem activity than in the average musician. An even higher awareness of prosody.
Rock the cello!