By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Isn’t it strange that babies can move to a beat before they even know how to talk? it’s as if rhythm skills are completely separate from our ability to form words and understand language! Well, that’s what I used to think until researchers from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois showed that music and languages skills are very related.
“We know that moving to a steady beat is a fundamental skill not only for music performance but one that has been linked to language skills,” said Nina Kraus, of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois. She and her fellow researchers told 100 teenageers to snap along to a metronome – a musical device that holds a steady beat – to see how well they could keep up. In order to see what was going on in the volunteers’ heads, the researchers measured their brain waves as well. After examining the kids’ English abilities, they found an interesting link between keeping up with rhythm and language skills.
“It turns out that kids who are poor readers have a lot of difficulty doing this motor task and following the beat. In both speech and music, rhythm provides a temporal map with signposts to the most likely locations of meaningful input,” said Kraus. Why is this so? “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 for learning to read,” she added. What’s even crazier is that the scientists say practicing could improve speaking abilities!