A study published on September 18 in the Journal of Neuroscience has established a relationship between music and language, proving that the ability to keep a beat is linked to the neural response to speech sounds. The discovery can have repercussions in the field of education, as training in music and rhythm could be used as a method to enhance an individual’s ability to read. The research was carried out by Adam Tierney and Nina Kraus, from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois.
The study was carried out in two parts with the collaboration of more than a hundred students who were asked to complete two tests. The first test consisted of listening to a metronome and following it by tapping on a special tap with the hand. After the first part was completed, the students were asked to complete a second related part which consisted of testing these individuals’ brain reactions and their response consistency when they were exposed to a repeated syllable.
Kraus explained that the brainwaves were a consequence of auditory processing and that all the activities which involve coordination between what is being heard and corporal movement require solid and accurate communication between the two parts of the brain. Those individuals who did better in keeping a consistent rhythm also showed a better neural response to the speech sounds they were exposed to during the second part of the test. Instead, individuals who are poor readers show greater difficulties with the coordination exercises.
According to Kraus, rhythm is a key component of both music and language. For this reason, musical training with an emphasis on synchronization of movement to musical beats could considerably improve language abilities. Language impairments which are related to audition are generally characterized by very variable neural responses, which can be controlled after training in music. As Kraus stated, rhythm is a crucial means to understanding spoken language, leading to a stronger sound-to-meaning association.