According to an article published in the September 7, 2014 online edition of the journal Developmental Science, Vanderbilt University researchers have found that a child’s capacity for understanding musical rhythm is related to the capacity for understanding grammar.

Reyna L. Gordon, PhD,  Otolaryngology & Kennedy Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Reyna L. Gordon, PhD,
Otolaryngology & Kennedy Center,
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Reyna Gordon, PhD, a research fellow in the Department of Otolaryngology at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, is the lead author of the study. According to Gordon, this study is the first of its kind to show an association between musical rhythm and grammar. Gordon emphasizes that more research will be necessary to determine how to apply the knowledge, but hopes that musical education can be used to improve grammar skills, particularly in children with language challenges.

“This may help us predict who would be the best candidate for particular types of therapy or who’s responding the best,” said Gordon. “Is it the child with the weakest rhythm that needs the most help, or is it the child that starts out with better rhythm that will then benefit the most?”

According to the study report, Gordon studied 25 typically developing 6-year-olds, first testing them with a standardized test of music aptitude, and then with more specialized music tests, including a computer game that the research team developed called a beat-based assessment. To measure the children’s grammar skills, they were shown a variety of photographs and asked questions about them.

Though the grammatical and musical tests were quite different, Gordon reported that children who did well on one kind of test tended to do well on the other, regardless of IQ, music experience and socioeconomic status.

Gordon proposed that these study findings may be due to the fact that both speech and music contain rhythm. Perhaps children who are better at detecting variations in music timing are also better at detecting variations in speech and therefore have an advantage in learning language, she suggested.

This research study was funded by a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Hobbs Discovery grant.


Source: Vanderbilt University