Musical Skills Tied to Reading Proficiency New research suggests musical practice and learning to recognize rhythms may help improve literacy: The ability to hear and remember instructions — a necessary part of musical ability — is critical for childhood reading skills.

In a new study, found in the journal Behavioral and Brain Functions, researchers provide a biological basis for how auditory working memory and musical aptitude are intrinsically related to reading ability.

Investigators from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University tested children on their ability to read and to recognize words. Then they compared a child’s proficiency to the extent of their auditory working memory (remembering a sequence of numbers and then being able to quote them in reverse), and musical aptitude (both melody and rhythm).

Additionally, the electrical activity within the children’s brains was also measured as auditory brainstem responses to rhythmic, or random, sounds based on speech.

Nina Kraus, Ph.D., and her team found that poor readers had reduced neural responses (auditory brainstem activity) to rhythmic rather than random sounds. Furthermore, researchers discovered the ability to hear acoustic sounds correlated with reading ability as well as musical aptitude.

The musical ability test, specifically the rhythm aspect, was also related to reading ability. Similarly a good score on the auditory working memory related to better reading and to the rhythm aspect of musical ability.

Kraus explained, “Both musical ability and literacy correlated with enhanced electrical signals within the auditory brainstem.

“Structural equation modeling of the data revealed that music skill, together with how the nervous system responds to regularities in auditory input and auditory memory/attention accounts for about 40 percent of the difference in reading ability between children.

“These results add weight to the argument that music and reading are related via common neural and cognitive mechanisms and suggests a mechanism for the improvements in literacy seen with musical training.”

Source: Biomed Central