How Music Can Help Children Build Literacy Skills
“When we think of rhythm, we think of music. But there is rhythm in the speech, ”Kraus said of Collins’ observations. “We use rhythm all the time to take turns, to focus, and we know biologically that children who have difficulty with rhythmic skills – like following the beat or the rhythmic pattern – are also children who have tend to have difficulty with language skills, and this includes reading.
Literacy depends on the detection of sound patterns, and this learning of patterns is part of auditory processing. According to a study by Kraus, children with reading difficulties were more successful when teachers improved the sound quality of their teaching by using assistive listening devices (or sound amplification systems) that have made their voice sharper and less distorted. Over the year, these children’s brain responses to sound became more consistent, suggesting that “the root cause of their reading problem was a sound processing bottleneck that could be resolved with intervention.”
Given this key relationship between literacy and sound processing, Kraus believes music education is an essential adjunct to basic subject teaching. “Playing music will help reading, writing and numeracy, in addition to the other ways it supports brain development.”
Music strengthens attention and perseverance
Kraus and Collins agree that making music is one of the best ways to build attention, working memory, and persistence. These strengths – developed in the music class or in the practice room – have been shown to transfer to other activities.
Learning music is essentially a boot camp for attention skills, according to Collins. “Learning music is, by its very nature, a way to increase attention little by little,” she said. “If we think of attention span as a muscle, we make that muscle stronger every time we practice music. We learn one line, then add a little more. One bar, then two bars, then the whole page.
The music is motivating, but the practice isn’t always fun, and it’s also invaluable, Collins said. Each new song should be repeated over and over again. Bad grades give real-time feedback and the ability to self-correct. “We are in this strange space where we don’t like to make things too difficult for our children. We don’t like to take a step back and watch them fail, even though we grow up from the failure and learn to say, “I have to change something in the way I do things. ”
While a final performance may seem like the supreme moment, “all of the great brain development happens in the practice room,” Collins said. The kids “try and try again and still don’t succeed, but they do and their reward network kicks in.”
When parents and schools consider introducing music, they need to keep the big picture in mind, Kraus said – a view even broader than the cognitive sense. “Most children will never be concert pianists. And that’s not the point at all. In this world, we need to be able to connect with each other and across languages and cultures. Through music we can build bridges. We can celebrate our shared humanity.