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Apr 172014

There was a song in the ‘90s where Janet Jackson requested the DJ to “Give me a beat….”  Not surprising, a very catchy beat was then played along with the rest of the song.  I would hear this song, sing, and tap the steering wheel as I drove.  Little did I know or realize that the simple act of clapping, drumming, or moving to a beat was actually improving my language skills!

The BBC News recently published that rhythm is an integral part of language and language skills.  Some of the discoveries through different tests and studies show that different methods of interacting with music or rhythm enhance different aspects of language skills.  One discovery was that practicing music strengthens reading.  Another showed that having the ability to perform well on rhythmic tests evidenced enhanced performances in responding to speech sounds. It is well known that being able to keep a rhythm is essential in musical performances, but this particular research may shed light on ways to help students who struggle with language arts.

Northwestern University, in Illinois, conducted a study with the participation of one hundred teenagers.  These teenagers were asked to tap their finger in time with a metronome while being monitored with brain electrodes.   The researchers observed that the students who were able to do this simple task also had enhanced neural responses to speech sounds.  The students who had difficulty tapping to the beat had neurological readings that showed struggles with meaningful input.  These rhythmically challenged students were also reported as being poor readers, and or speakers.

Brain researchers across the country are supporting the idea that musical training, particularly being able to keep rhythm, does positively impact the brain.  Leading neurologists are seeing that musical abilities are correlated with improved learning in non-musical areas, particularly language arts.  Musicians are found to have highly developed and consistent auditory-neural responses.    This same response is part of what is needed for successful reading to occur.   According to Professor Kraus, from Northwestern University, “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.”

Adding formal musical training to our children or student’s lives may not be permissible for many reasons.  However, we as therapists can still feel empowered.  We are helping our students improve their rhythmic abilities every time we encourage precision in their Rhythmic Writing technique. Simply listening to and encouraging a love for music is an excellent way to strengthen those neural connections in our youngsters. So turn on that music, whether it’s classical, country, holiday, pop, or funky and let the beat work to strengthen our brains and those around us!