Following on from part 1 which explained the early history of neuromusical research, in this part we consider findings from some of the studies of children post 2010. Studies became more robust with randomised selection of participants and longitudinal testing.
In one major U.S. study 3 groups of primary school children were selected randomly
- A group to take part in regular music practice
- A group to take part in alternative extra-curricular activities eg sport, art, drama…
- A group doing no extra-curricular activities
After following the children for 3-5 years, findings suggested that regular music practice over this period not only enhanced language skills but also the executive functions of the brain – planning, strategising, problem solving, managing emotions, pro-social and empathetic behaviour.
Replicant studies in other countries followed and are ongoing, some studies have found an even stronger link and other studies have found a less robust link.
Now in the 2020’s we have results that provide significant evidence to inform educational strategy, advocating for music learning – singing and/or playing an instrument, for all children throughout primary and secondary school.
But what about under 5’s? Let’s look specifically at one area of studies of children in early years.
Studies with 3-4 year olds show us that for the brain to process the component parts of language a huge number of messages need to fire around the brain and they use the same circuit of neural pathways that are developed through regular music practice in early years – developing melodic and rhythmic awareness through playing with pitch, tempo, dynamics, rhythm and keeping the beat with moving, singing, shaking, tapping and banging activities.
The level of synchronisation that is needed between the auditory, visual and motor cortices of the brain to make sense of the messages (language or music) is tied to the motor circuit which is developed through keeping the beat and rhythmic awareness activities promoted through music practice. This finding indicates a fundamental impact on early years learning for pre-literacy skills.
The findings of a research study by Dr Nina Kraus at Northwestern University, Illinois has found biological evidence linking music, rhythmic abilities and language skills – specifically linking the ability to keep a beat to the neural encoding of speech sounds.
The study demonstrates that accurate beat-keeping involves synchronization between the parts of the brain responsible for hearing as well as movement.
“Rhythm is an integral part of both music and language, and the rhythm of spoken language is a crucial cue to understanding. It may be that musical training—with its emphasis on rhythmic skills—can exercise the auditory-system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential to learning to read.” Dr Nina Kraus, Northwestern University,
Boogie Mites tag line (Can you feel the beat?) was used to stress the importance of this skill and Boogie Mites music activities involve keeping the beat through movement, body percussion, tapping sticks and banging drums. Our songs include a strong steady drum beat as well as different instruments and harmonies that promote the development of the neural pathways shown to support these pre-literacy skills, as well as other areas of development.
So when you are next marching to a beat or banging a box with a wooden spoon to keep a beat or to work with the rhythm of a piece of music or traditional nursery rhyme, remember that you are developing the key skills needed for language and literacy – as well as having fun!
See you next week for learning about ‘The Music Advantage’.