Tapping out a beat in time to a rhythm has been linked to the brain’s ability to respond to sound. Many of us groove and jive to our own beat while waiting for a bus, on line at the market, strolling along, or other times. Most of us will never use this action professionally, but what we don’t realize is that the ability to precisely keep the beat affects how the brain perceives sound. Sound perception correlates with language learning, which affects a child’s school success in many areas.
The ability to tap and move consistently to a beat relates to the brain’s response to sound, a correlation that has been linked to reading ability and phonological awareness. Phonological awareness refers to the ability to detect and manipulate the components of spoken language, such as syllables, rhymes and voice onset time.
Understanding the rhythm of language is how babies learn their native language. The neural pathways used stay connected and feed the brain information. Multilingual children learn the prosody of more than one language, retaining many more neural pathways than children learning one language. This may give multilingual children some advantages in academics.
But moving to a beat in a prescribed pattern translates to the brain processing and understanding different nuances of sound, including the subtle pauses in speech between syllables, words, and phrases. Efficient decoding of print also relies on the brain’s ability to match sound/symbol relationships needed for reading, and to meld the sounds together correctly for comprehension.
A study reported by http://neuronetlearning.com tested teens’ ability to tap precise rhythms on a drum machine while measuring brain waves. The findings revealed that beat synchronization is related to the timing in the auditory brainstem response. Therefore, if a young child has difficulty with rhythmic timing, this may hinder the development of their phonological awareness and reading ability.
Researchers note, “Rhythm is inherently a part of music and language. It may be that musical training, with an emphasis on rhythmic skills, exercises the auditory-system, leading to strong sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential in learning to read.”
While school districts nationwide are cutting music programs to elementary grades, they may want to think twice before doing it. Music education helps young children understand and replicate repetitive patterns (rhythms) which the brain then looks for in other academic pursuits (reading). Eliminating music education for young children will, in effect, negatively impact a child’s ability to succed academically during the critical first years of school when they learn to read.
Musical training has also been shown to lead to improvements in cognitive functioning, auditory attention, reading ability, and memory. The study was originally published in the Journal of Neuroscience, The Journal of Neuroscience 33(38):14981–88. Click here for more information.
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