Slow, repetitious music helps your child’s brain development!

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Many top educational researchers recommend integrating music into phonological awareness instruction. These researchers recommend songs, and specifically rhyming songs, as an effective mechanism for building phonemic awareness with children in early childhood classrooms (Adams, Foorman, Lundberg & Beele.

Building an understanding of the sounds within words must begin with an ability to discriminate similarities and differences in sounds. Not surprisingly, then, researchers have found a link between musical pitch discrimination and reading ability in young children. • First grade children were tested on both phonemic awareness and musical pitch awareness. The researchers found a high degree of correlation between phonemic awareness and pitch discrimination. The ability to perceive slight differences in phonemes appeared to depend on the ability to extract information about the frequencies of the speech sounds. The researchers proposed that “carefully structured musical training should be an essential component of the primary school curriculum” (Lamb & Gregory, 1993). • Another study examined the relations among phonological awareness, music skills, and early reading skills in 100 preschoolers. The researchers found that music skills correlated significantly with both phonological awareness and reading development (Anvari et al, 2002). • A third study confirmed the correlation between phonological awareness and musical aptitude as measured by pitch awareness. Preschool children completed both phoneme manipulations and deletion tasks and musical aptitude tests. Those children with higher levels of musical aptitude had greater ability to manipulate speech sounds (Peynircioglu et al, 2002). Research Into Practice: ABC Music & Me Within ABC Music & Me, teachers use songs with rhyming lyrics, which help children build phonological awareness. In the “Laugh and Learn” level for younger children, students are exposed to rhyming songs. In the “Move & Groove” program for older children, students receive explanations of rhyming before or after singing and generate words that rhyme. This link between music ability and phonemic awareness is supported by recent brain research in both adults and children. • A study by Stanford researchers (Gaab et al, 2005) found that musical training improves how the brain processes the spoken word. Specifically, the research found that musical instruction and experience helps the brain improve its ability to distinguish between rapidly changing sounds, referred to as auditory processing. This auditory processing is critical to developing phonemic awareness and to learning to read successfully. In a study of adult musicians who began playing an instrument by the age of seven and continued playing into adulthood, it was found through functional magnetic resonance imaging scanners, or fMRIs, that musicians had more focused, efficient brain activity than did non-musicians. Researchers stated that this finding may have important implications for improving reading skills for young children. • Another study (Musacchia et al, 2007) demonstrated that playing musical instruments triggers changes in the brain stem as well as in the brain cortex. Senior study author Nina Kraus explained this finding to mean that music training may enhance reading and speech functions because the brain stem is a pathway for both music and language. Researchers measured the activity of neurons in the brain of the experimental subjects who had been playing musical instruments since the age of five. They found that musicians’ brain stems not only showed increased activity, but also quicker response times to both music and speech sounds. The longer a person had been playing an instrument, the sharper the responses. As a Scientific American article (Swaminathan, 2007) summarized in an article reviewing this research study, Sesame Street had it right when they paired music with early literacy instruction. • Based on the success of adult studies, researchers (Magne et al, 2006) conducted a study of the impact of musical training on eight-year-old children. Specifically, researchers examined the impact of 3–4 years of musical training on pitch processing in both music and in language. In language, pitch is the essential component of prosody, the patterns of stress and intonation in a spoken language. Prosody is often called “the music of speech”. Prosody not only conveys emotional messages, but also is essential at the phonological level in helping to understand words. The results of these EEG studies of brain functioning showed that musician children outperformed nonmusicians on both music and language tasks. Researchers concluded: “… the present findings highlight the positive effects of music lessons for linguistic abilities in children. Therefore, these findings argue in favor of music classes being an intrinsic and important part of the educational programs in public schools….”

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