Ep. 112: How are the sounds of my life shaping my brain, and what does music have to do with it? With Dr. Nina Kraus

The sounds of life; our sonic world; the soundtrack of life

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

To a large extent, we get to choose our sonic experiences. Dr. Kraus’ new book explains what those choices mean for our brain and the interpersonal communication that is so critical to our human experience. Why is music the “jackpot” of the “sound mind,” giving musicians improved sound processing into old age – even if they haven’t played since childhood?

Dr. Nina Kraus
Dr. Nina Kraus


My guest today is a return guest! Dr. Nina Kraus is a neuroscientist who has done path-breaking research for more than 30 years on the interplay of sound and the brain. Dr. Kraus is Professor of Neurobiology, Communication Sciences, and Otolaryngology at Northwestern University. She uses the principles of neuroscience to improve human communication, and advocate for best practices in education, health, and social policy. She most recently has done this through authoring her first book – hot off the press, it released today – that shows how our processing of sound changes the brain.


We discuss:

  • An early experience with her mother that shaped Nina’s approach to research (one of many personal stories in the book).
  • The meaning behind the title of the book, Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World.
  • How music has a profound effect on our brain’s ability to process sound, and why musicians have measurably better sound minds for the long-term.
  • Nina’s definition of “musician” for purposes of her book (and research in general).
  • Some of the top advantages musicians experience related to their processing of sound and their brain capabilities.
  • Why music is the “jackpot” of the “sound mind,” giving musicians improved sound processing into old age – even if they haven’t played since childhood.
  • Why musicians outperform non-musicians in cognitive strengths such as attention, working memory, and creativity – strengths that are not just musical, but transfer to other activities, most notably speech.
  • The connection between rhythm and what might appear to be unrelated skills like reading and writing.
  • The advantage musicians have in hearing speech in noise.
  • The benefits in listening to music vs. actively making music.
  • What the research shows about the lifelong benefits of music training in childhood… even if you do not continue to play music.
  • Biological evidence that supports the benefits of music education.
  • “Sound mind choices” to consider for yourself, your family, and as a culture that will pay dividends for a lifetime.

Connect/Other Resources

In-Episode Promo

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Nina shares the song, “Wheels” (Written By Gram Parsons & Chris Hillman; release date February 1969), in which she sings harmony with her musician husband, Marshall Dawson.


Closing Words

Thanks so much to Nina – and Marshall – for sharing that song! If you’d like to see the video as well, there is a link in the show notes. One thing I want to point out about Nina’s book is that, not only is it full of personal stories (link the chinchilla story), but it is also full of about 80 illustrations (by Katie Shelly) that are really engaging and helpful in synthesizing the information. As I already mentioned, Nina is really skillful in writing about scientific research in a way that is clear and accessible to the layperson, and Katie’s illustrations just take that benefit up yet another notch – and it’s a clever way of literally illustrating the art in science. We are giving away a free copy of this book to one of you! To enter the drawing, email me a screenshot of either your social media post about this episode, or your podcast review on Apple Podcasts or Podchaser.com by October 28. My email is mindy@mpetersonmusic.com. This offer is available only to those in the US due to shipping costs. As always, all links from today’s show – and a transcript of this episode – can be found in the show notes at mpetersonmusic.com/podcast; this is Ep. 112. While you’re there, I’d love to hear from you! You can reach me on email (mindy@mpetersonmusic.com), Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn. All links are on that webpage, as well as in the episode details right in your podcast app. Thanks so much for joining me today. Until next time, may your life be enhanced with music.

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5 responses to “Ep. 112: How are the sounds of my life shaping my brain, and what does music have to do with it? With Dr. Nina Kraus”

  1. i know for sure we can see sound , synesthesia is a condition where the brain mixes up the senses and one sensory modality causes a simultaneous stimulation of another but why the brain operate in such ways ? Is it good long term or bad?