I asked Matthew Kirschenbaum, who is a musician and a student of Mandarin, now living in Xiamen, if he thought his musical background helped him with learning Chinese. Here is his interesting answer:
Yes, I think for sure being a musician helps with the hearing. I actually did an experiment some time ago in a Chinese listening class, where I volunteered to recite back a full paragraph. My Chinese was not anywhere near what it is today (which is still pretty bad!), but I approached the exercise just like I did in music school training class.
In music school we had to sing back by ear multiple phrases from Bach inventions -- perhaps as many as 20 measures at a time. I took that training and recited back perfectly the complete paragraph the teacher spoke. I knew I had only about three seconds to complete it. The class was amazed, but when they asked me questions about what was being said in the paragraph, I had to confess I had absolutely no idea what the paragraph was about. I was simply listening to the tones and the rhythm. It was a cool exercise-- now if I could just understand what everyone was actually saying!
Yes, it is amazing!
You can see a video clip of Matthew performing in a mixed Chinese-Western group here. And you can read about his Zai Circle, a musical bridge to cultures.
(photo from http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/1002472)