People who learn to play an instrument may reap benefits that aren't musical in nature, according to a new study. Findings published this month in the journal Neuropsychology indicate that children with training in music have better verbal memory skills than do their peers who haven't received musical instruction.

Agnes S. Chan of Chinese University in Hong Kong and her colleagues tested 90 boys between the ages of six and 15. Half of the students belonged to a school orchestra and had received additional musical training, whereas the other half had not been taught how to play an instrument. The researchers compared the students' verbal memory skills, such as recalling words from a list, and their visual memory for images. They found that boys with musical training remembered significantly more words than the nonmusical students did and retained more words after 30-minute delays. What is more, performance on the verbal learning tasks rose in proportion to the length of musical training. Music instruction had no effect on visual memory, however.

The scientists note that the improved verbal memory stems from musical training because both tasks engage the same section of the brain, the left temporal region. A follow-up study a year after the first indicated that the effects are long-lasting--children who had stopped their musical training retained the verbal memory advantage gained from the instruction. In addition, Chan notes that music's benefits may spill over into other areas, noting that "students with better verbal memory probably will find it easier to learn in school."