A new study from New York University identifies a correlation between brain waves and the perception of music. The research, led by Keith Doelling, shows how brain rhythms are used to process music and how perception of notes and melodies varies between musicians and non-musicians.

“We’ve isolated the rhythms in the brain that match rhythms in music,” explains Keith Doelling, “Specifically, our findings show that the presence of these rhythms enhances our perception of music and of pitch changes.”

It was previously proven that brain rhythms are highly synchronized with speech, but the study emphasizes a newly discovered role that brain rhythms play in the detection of music sequences, specifically that musical training can enhance the functional role of brain rhythms.

The NYU researchers conducted three experiments, using magnetoencephalography (MEG). They asked musicians and non-musicians to detect short pitch distortions in 13-second clips of classic piano music. The findings showed that both groups could synchronize with faster music, but only the musicians could match their brain rhythms and keep time with unusually slow clips.

The researchers say that non-musicians are unable to process slower music as a continuously melody rather than as individual notes, meaning their brain rhythms can’t process the sound like musicians can. Maybe those piano lessons would have paid off, after all!