Music and language provide an important context in which to understand the human auditory system. While they perform distinct and complementary communicative functions, music and language are both rooted in the human desire to connect with others. Since sensory function is ultimately shaped by what is biologically important to the organism, the human urge to communicate has been a powerful driving force in both the evolution of auditory function and the ways in which it can be changed by experience within an individual lifetime. This chapter emphasizes the highly interactive nature of the auditory system as well as the depth of its integration with other sensory and cognitive systems. From the origins of music and language to the effects of auditory expertise on the neural encoding of sound, we consider key themes in auditory processing, learning, and plasticity. We emphasize the unique role of the auditory system as the temporal processing "expert" in the brain, and explore relationships between communication and cognition. We demonstrate how experience with music and language can have a significant impact on underlying neural function, and that auditory expertise strengthens some of the very same aspects of sound encoding that are deficient in impaired populations.