October 18, 2011
Musical And Reading Ability Correlated

Areas of the brain involved in musical and reading ability not surprisingly overlap.

Auditory working memory and attention, for example the ability to hear and then remember instructions while completing a task, are a necessary part of musical ability. But musical ability is also related to verbal memory and literacy in childhood. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Behavioral and Brain Functions shows how auditory working memory and musical aptitude are intrinsically related to reading ability, and provides a biological basis for this link.

Of course if you can't remember the notes in a melody and are slow at reading sheet music you are going to have a harder time learning music.

Researchers from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University tested children on their ability to read and to recognize words. This was compared to the extent of their auditory working memory (remembering a sequence of numbers and then being able to quote them in reverse), and musical aptitude (both melody and rhythm). The electrical activity within the children's brains was also measured as auditory brainstem responses to rhythmic, or random, sounds based on speech.

Most cognitive abilities are highly correlated. So these results are not surprising.

The team lead by Dr Nina Kraus found that poor readers had reduced neural response (auditory brainstem activity) to rhythmic rather than random sounds compared to good readers. In fact the level of neural enhancement to acoustic regularities correlated with reading ability as well as musical aptitude. The musical ability test, specifically the rhythm aspect, was also related to reading ability. Similarly a good score on the auditory working memory related to better reading and to the rhythm aspect of musical ability.

Dr Kraus explained, "Both musical ability and literacy correlated with enhanced electrical signals within the auditory brainstem. Structural equation modeling of the data revealed that music skill, together with how the nervous system responds to regularities in auditory input and auditory memory/attention accounts for about 40% of the difference in reading ability between children. These results add weight to the argument that music and reading are related via common neural and cognitive mechanisms and suggests a mechanism for the improvements in literacy seen with musical training."

Does literacy really improve when children are given musical training?

Lately I've been introspecting about my mental state when various repetitive background noises are blocking out distracting non-repetitive noises outside. So, for example, I think the sound of a dishwasher helps me relax and think thru complex problems. I want to try playing some recorded forms of white noise and continuous yet rhythmic sounds that are not meant to be musical. Can one get more done mentally if a sort of wall of sound is blocking out every other source of sound?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 October 18 09:31 PM  Brain Performance


Comments
Sycamore said at October 19, 2011 8:55 AM:

Personally I couldn't read music in five years of trying, and I maxed the GRE-verbal.

PacRim Jim said at October 19, 2011 4:56 PM:

Two varieties of symbolic processing are related?
Shockingly obvious.

Shelly said at November 21, 2011 11:39 AM:

Our child sees a Portland psychiatrist to help him deal with his emotional outbursts. He is autistic and most of you know that autistic children, although socially different, are extremely bright. I believe this article about the link between music and reading, especially in children who are autistic. Their brains function in a totally different way. My son remembers everything and has always been very gifted musically. It's a great way for him to express himself.

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