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Associations Between Length of Music Training and Reading Skills in Children

September 11, 201311 September 2013

Arts education

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This study examines “whether music training is associated with higher-level reading abilities such as reading comprehension” in 46 “normal-achieving” children between six and nine years of age. Thirty-five girls and 11 boys participated in the study. Previous academic research has not examined reading comprehension, focussing instead on skills that are more closely associated with music, such as auditory skills and word decoding (“how well children can sound out or pronounce individual words”).

The study finds that “length of music training predicted reading comprehension performance even after controlling for age, socioeconomic status, auditory perception, full scale IQ, the number of hours that children spent reading per week, and word decoding skills”. Unlike previous research, the study did not find a correlation between music training and word decoding skills.

As with all studies based on correlations, the association between music training and reading comprehension does not necessarily imply causality. In fact, as the researchers note, it is “possible, indeed quite likely, that children who are better readers, who are more intelligent, and who tend to work hard and persist on tasks … are more likely to take music lessons” and to stick with lessons for a longer period of time.

Despite the lack of definitive proof, the researchers suggest that “music training teaches children self-discipline and attentional skills that help them concentrate for long periods of time”. The researchers point out that the relationship may, in fact, be bidirectional: children who start off with higher intelligence and persistence may be more likely to take music lessons and then may have their abilities strengthened by music lessons.

The authors conclude that “perhaps music lessons help children to become efficient learners who are able to focus better and concentrate for longer periods of time, which ultimately leads to important educational benefits”.

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