Learning music improves reading skills

Children tutored in music involving progressively complex rhythmic, tonal and practical skills display superior reading skills to their peers, according to a new study.

Joseph M. Piro and Camilo Ortiz from Long Island University said data from the study will help clarify the role of music study on cognition, and shed light on the question of the potential of music to enhance performance in language and literacy.

Piro and Ortiz investigated the hypothesis that children (in two elementary schools) who have received keyboard instruction as part of a music curriculum that becomes progressively difficult over the years, would demonstrate significantly better performance on vocabulary and verbal sequencing than students who did not receive keyboard instruction.

Several studies have reported positive associations between music education and increased abilities in non-musical (linguistic, mathematical, and spatial) domains in children.

The authors said there are similarities in the way individuals interpret music and language and "because neural response to music is a widely distributed system within the brain.... It would not be unreasonable to expect that some processing networks for music and language behaviours, namely reading, located in both hemispheres of the brain, would overlap."

Using a quasi-experimental design, the investigators selected second-grade children from two school sites located in the same geographic vicinity and with similar demographic characteristics, to ensure the two groups of children were as similar as possible.

Children in the intervention school studied piano formally for a period of three consecutive years as part of a comprehensive instructional intervention program.

Children attending the control school received no formal musical training on any instruments and had never taken music lessons as part of their general school curriculum or in private study.

Both schools followed comprehensive balanced literacy programs that integrate skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening.

All participants were individually tested to assess their reading skills at the start and close of a standard 10-month school year.

Results showed that the music-learning group had significantly better vocabulary and verbal sequencing scores.

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