“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.”
Music as a therapeutic intervention is effective in healthcare and educational settings for children and adults. Music interventions can promote wellness, improve communication, and engage cognitive functioning. Children who had received musical training were shown to have improved speech segmentation abilities, according to research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.
Speech segmentation is the process of identifying boundaries between words and syllables, and the ability to extract words from continuous speech. Recent research has found that musical expertise facilitates speech segmentation in adults. Musicians were shown to score better in both musical and linguistic tests compared to non-musicians. The results from this study were taken as evidence that musical training facilitates improved speech abilities, and led researchers to examine whether there is a similar correlation between music and children with learning impairments.
In this study, a longitudinal measurement was designed to follow 8-year-old non-musician children over the course of two school years. Children were enrolled into three experiment groups; none of them had been involved in music or painting lessons before or during the study. One of the experimental groups consisted of painting lessons rather than musical training to understand whether music training had any advantage in improving speech abilities.
Each group went through an initial “test session,” in which participants listened to 5 minutes of a sung artificial language. After listening to the song, participants were presented with two spoken items and were asked to decide which item sounded more familiar. One group of children were assigned to music and the other to painting classes for 45 minutes, twice a week in year one and once a week in year two.
Music training was shown to improve children’s speech segmentation abilities while children in the painting group did not exhibit improved abilities. The findings are important in understanding children’s language development, because speech segmentation is one of the building blocks of language acquisition.
Parents and teachers should consider the implications musical training has as a therapeutic method for children and the encouragement it can provide in the acquisition of new skills.
Journal reference: François, Clément, Julie Chobert, Mireille Besson, and Daniele Schön. 2013. “Music Training for the Development of Speech Segmentation.” Cerebral Cortex 23(9):2038–43.