There is an existing argument that rhythm is considered to be an integral and innate part of language. A recent study that was published in The Journal of Neuroscience this week gave some very interesting insights about the close ties between rhythmic abilities and language skills. The study also suggests that practicing music could lead to better speech skills.
It’s all in the tone
The study primarily revolved around the underlying association between a person’s rhythmic abilities and his or her language skills. The research was done with test subjects who were exposed to varying stimuli that would help determine the commonalities between music and language. Rhythmic tests were performed and results indicated that subjects who were able to perform better on the rhythmic examination also showed superior cognitive response to sounds of speech. The researchers arrived at the conclusion that continuous exposure and practice with sounds and music can greatly improve skills connected with language.
Prof. Nina Kraus of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, located at Northwestern University in Illinois commented that it has always been recognized that executing a steady beat is a fundamental skill in the area of music. The study results show that rhythmic ability is related to language skills as well. How is this possible? It is believed that musical training and its emphasis on rhythm trains the auditory system and enhances sound-to-meaning associations that are important in reading skills as well.
The study involved an experiment that included 100 teenagers who were asked to perform a simple task. All of them were instructed to follow a beat by tapping their fingers. This experiment was done in order to measure the rhythmic ability of the participants with a procedure called electroencephalography (EEG). In the procedure, electrodes were used to closely monitor brainwaves of the participants as they performed the task. The results were quite interesting. The authors noted that teenagers who are poor readers had a very difficult time in performing the simple tapping task of following the beat during the experiment.
Prof. Kraus said that in the experiment the brainwaves and sound waves matched. The relation between the two was so vivid that when the brainwaves are played on a stereo it would sound exactly like its counterpart sound wave. She commented that rhythm is a common indicator in both music and speech.
The musical brain
Prof. Kraus came up with the conclusion that elements, which are deemed necessary for reading, were boosted when subjected to musical familiarity. Musicians have more developed auditory-neural responses. According to Prof. Kraus musical exposure and training can put into work a person’s auditory system, which in return lessens “neural jitter.” Lessening the neural jitter means that a person has better sound-to-meaning associations which is a very important factor acquiring reading skills. This supports the idea that musical training impacts areas of learning non-music areas.
Another researcher agreed with the results of the study. John Iversen, who is from the University of California in San Diego agreed with Prof. Kraus that musical exposure and training might actually have “important impacts” on the brain as revealed in the study. Mr. Iversen is not part of the research but is involved in a study on how music is processed in the brain.
Photo Credit: Learning Bongos