Playing a musical instrument (not just listening to music) improves reading, according to Dr Nina Kraus, in a presentation at Scientific Learning Corporation’s 2017 Visionary Conference.
Dr Kraus is the Director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, Illinois, USA.
We are indebted to Dr Kraus for the following notes about the connections between music, rhythm and reading. There is a systematic relationship between reading skills and how the brain responds to sound, she said.
Rhythm is important not only in music but also in speech and language. Our brains track rhythm in music.
Sound patterns help a listener understand speech, especially in noise. Drummers are better than non-musicians at hearing speech in noise (Slater & Kraus 2015 – Cognitive Processing), and musicians brains are more sensitive to sound patterns.
Rhythm and reading skills both rely on stable sound processing (Hornickel & Kraus 2013 Journal of Neuroscience, Tierney & Kraus 2013 Journal of Neuroscience).
Sound patterns help identify speech elements that are important for learning to read. Good readers get greater benefit from patterns when encoding speech sounds (Chandrasekaran et al 2009 Neuron).
Rhythm and early reading
Rhythm abilities are linked to early reading skills. Preschoolers who can tap in time with beats have stronger reading readiness and more precise neural encoding of speech (Woodruff, Carr et al 2014 PNAS).
It is possible to predict a child’s future reading ability from their auditory processing skills at 3 years of age.
Children with more robust right hemisphere rhythm processing are better readers. (Abrahams et al 2008 Journal of Neuroscience).
Rhythm and reading in high school
Rhythm skills track with reading skills in high school. Like the younger children, the better that older students can tap to a beat, the better their reading ability. And their reading ability gets better with musical training (Slater, Tierney & Kraus 2013 PLoS One).
High-schoolers who were taught to play musical instruments during a two-year program offset early language deficits due to poverty. (Kraus et al 2015, Journal of Neuroscience).
These findings come from the Harmony Project, a non-profit organization that has provided music education and instruments to disadvantaged children in Los Angeles for more than a decade.
Despite a school dropout rate of 50% or more in their neighbourhoods, 93% of Harmony Project students have gone on to university since 2008.