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Learn Music to Boost Literacy in Kids?

Study Shows Musical Training May Enhance Communication Skills
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 24, 2007 -- Learning music may help children’s communication skills more than studying phonics, according to a new study.

The study shows musical training enhances the same processing skills in the brain and nervous system that are needed for talking and reading because musicians use all of their senses to practice and perform music, such as watching other musicians, reading lips, feeling, and hearing the music.

Researchers say since music is more accessible to children than phonics, learning music may be a valuable aid in fostering literacy.

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 29 adults with varying levels of musical training wore electrodes to measure brain activity in response to watching and listening to audio and videotapes of a cellist performing and a person speaking.

The results showed that trained musicians had earlier and larger responses to both speech and music in the brain stem than nonmusicians.

Specifically, those with more years of musical training had better sound-encoding mechanisms in the brain stem, which are also necessary for speech and communication.

Music and Communication Skills

Researchers say years of multisensory training through learning music may improve these communication skills in the brain and foster better literacy.

"Audiovisual processing was much enhanced in musicians' brains compared to non-musician counterparts, and musicians also were more sensitive to subtle changes in both speech and music sounds," says researcher Nina Kraus, communication sciences professor at Northwestern University, in a news release.

"Our study indicates that the high-level cognitive processing of music affects automatic processing that occurs early in the processing stream and fundamentally shapes sensory circuitry."

Learning music was also linked to improvements in other communication and literacy skills, such as more accurate pitch coding (needed to recognize a speaker’s identity), emotional cues, and enhanced processing of timbre and timing cues common in speech and music.

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