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Early Childhood Music Training and Associated Improvements in Music and Language Abilities

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Abstract

ADULT MUSICIANS TEND TO OUTPERFORM nonmusicians in a variety of language and language-relevant tasks. Moreover, children who take music lessons will show an increased ability in several types of language skills. However, it is still unclear what the time course of these developmental effects might be, and the degree to which young children improve in their musical abilities. Here, we present the first year of data from an ongoing longitudinal study, aimed at finding if measurable improvements in musical and linguistic abilities can be seen among children taking music classes. We studied 90 children (age 3–6) who were enrolled to take group classes in a conservatory setting. We measured their musical, language, and perceptual abilities both at the beginning and the ending of the school year. Pre vs. post comparisons showed an increase in vocabulary size, pre-reading skills, and singing ability; these increases were beyond what could be attributed to normal development during the time. We also found that singing ability was correlated with language skills. Taken together, these results show that early childhood music training can lead to associated improvements in both musical skills and language skills, strengthening the evidence for a developmental link between these two abilities. © 2018 By The Regents Of The University Of California All Rights Reserved.

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... Although the researchers did not randomly assign children to experimental and control groups, these results are consistent with earlier works that suggested some transfer effects between music and language (for a review see Trainor & Hannon, 2013). A more recent study also found transfer effects of early childhood music education into language abilities in 90 Canadian children aged 3-6 years (Hutchins, 2018), reinforcing the idea that there may be transfer effects between music learning and language. ...
Chapter
In recent years, there has been an upsurge of research on music and the developing brain. As brain imaging technology becomes more sophisticated, neuroscientists have been able to gain many insights into the developing brain as it perceives and processes musical information. Yet, there is still a fair amount of “misunderstanding, misapprehension, and misapplication” (Croft J, Mind Brain Edu 5(1):5–11, p. 6, 2011) of neuroscientific research in the arts and humanities, as well as in education. In this chapter, we offer a critical review of neuromusical research conducted with children aged 0–8. The chapter is divided into four parts: (1) a brief description EEG and MRI, two brain and the main imaging techniques used with young children; (2) a review of imaging studies published in the past decade (2008–2018) concerning music and young children; (3) the main criticisms associated with the works, coming primarily from scholars in the humanities, arts, and education fields; (4) Implications for research and practice in early childhood.
... In the present sample, simple discrimination abilities were highest in those who had started music lessons before ages six and seven. Our finding of an AoS effect for simple pitch discrimination is supported by longitudinal studies showing that even short periods of music training during childhood can improve children's discrimination of simple tones and melodies [13,30], neural processing of musical sounds and pitches [14][15][16]31], and accuracy in singing a simple melody [32]. This advantage for low-level pitch processing is likely a function of early maturation in the primary auditory cortex, in which there is a massive increase in the number of synapses and in myelination between ages one and five [33][34][35][36]. ...
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Language and music are complex cognitive and neural functions that rely on awareness of one's own sound productions. Information on the awareness of vocal pitch, and its relation to phonemic awareness which is crucial for learning to read, will be important for understanding the relationship between tone-deafness and developmental language disorders such as dyslexia. Here we show that phonemic awareness skills are positively correlated with pitch perception-production skills in children. Children between the ages of seven and nine were tested on pitch perception and production, phonemic awareness, and IQ. Results showed a significant positive correlation between pitch perception-production and phonemic awareness, suggesting that the relationship between musical and linguistic sound processing is intimately linked to awareness at the level of pitch and phonemes. Since tone-deafness is a pitch-related impairment and dyslexia is a deficit of phonemic awareness, we suggest that dyslexia and tone-deafness may have a shared and/or common neural basis.
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Previous research has suggested a link between musical training and auditory processing skills. Musicians have shown enhanced perception of auditory features critical to both music and speech, suggesting that this link extends beyond basic auditory processing. It remains unclear to what extent musicians who also have dyslexia show these specialized abilities, considering often-observed persistent deficits that coincide with reading impairments. The present study evaluated auditory sequencing and speech discrimination in 52 adults comprised of musicians with dyslexia, nonmusicians with dyslexia, and typical musicians. An auditory sequencing task measuring perceptual acuity for tone sequences of increasing length was administered. Furthermore, subjects were asked to discriminate three synthesized syllable continua varying in acoustic components of speech necessary for intraphonemic discrimination, which included spectral (formant frequency) and temporal (voice onset time (VOT) and amplitude envelope) features. Results indicate that musicians with dyslexia did not significantly differ from typical musicians and performed better than nonmusicians with dyslexia for auditory sequencing as well as discrimination of spectral and VOT cues within syllable continua. However, typical musicians demonstrated superior performance relative to both groups with dyslexia for discrimination of syllables varying in amplitude information. These findings suggest a distinct profile of speech processing abilities in musicians with dyslexia, with specific weaknesses in discerning amplitude cues within speech. Since these difficulties seem to remain persistent in adults with dyslexia despite musical training, this study only partly supports the potential for musical training to enhance auditory processing skills, suggested to be important for literacy, in individuals with dyslexia.
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Using in-vivo magnetic resonance morphometry it was investigated whether the midsagittal area of the corpus callosum (CC) would differ between 30 professional musicians and 30 age-, sex- and handedness-matched controls. Our analyses revealed that the anterior half of the CC was significantly larger in musicians. This difference was due to the larger anterior CC in the subgroup of musicians who had begun musical training before the age of 7. Since anatomic studies have provided evidence for a positive correlation between midsagittal callosal size and the number of fibers crossing through the CC, these data indicate a difference in interhemispheric communication and possibly in hemispheric (a)symmetry of sensorimotor areas. Our results are also compatible with plastic changes of components of the CC during a maturation period within the first decade of human life, similar to those observed in animal studies.
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A growing body of research suggests that musical experience and ability are related to a variety of cognitive abilities, including executive functioning (EF). However, it is not yet clear if these relationships are limited to specific components of EF, limited to auditory tasks, or reflect very general cognitive advantages. This study investigated the existence and generality of the relationship between musical ability and EFs by evaluating the musical experience and ability of a large group of participants and investigating whether this predicts individual differences on three different components of EF - inhibition, updating, and switching - in both auditory and visual modalities. Musical ability predicted better performance on both auditory and visual updating tasks, even when controlling for a variety of potential confounds (age, handedness, bilingualism, and socio-economic status). However, musical ability was not clearly related to inhibitory control and was unrelated to switching performance. These data thus show that cognitive advantages associated with musical ability are not limited to auditory processes, but are limited to specific aspects of EF. This supports a process-specific (but modality-general) relationship between musical ability and non-musical aspects of cognition.
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This study investigated whether musical training and bilingualism are associated with enhancements in specific components of executive function, namely, task switching and dual-task performance. Participants (n = 153) belonging to one of four groups (monolingual musician, bilingual musician, bilingual non-musician, or monolingual non-musician) were matched on age and socioeconomic status and administered task switching and dual-task paradigms. Results demonstrated reduced global and local switch costs in musicians compared with non-musicians, suggesting that musical training can contribute to increased efficiency in the ability to shift flexibly between mental sets. On dual-task performance, musicians also outperformed non-musicians. There was neither a cognitive advantage for bilinguals relative to monolinguals, nor an interaction between music and language to suggest additive effects of both types of experience. These findings demonstrate that long-term musical training is associated with improvements in task switching and dual-task performance.
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This study considered a relation between rhythm perception skills and individual differences in phonological awareness and grammar abilities, which are two language skills crucial for academic achievement. Twenty-five typically developing 6-year-old children were given standardized assessments of rhythm perception, phonological awareness, morpho-syntactic competence, and non-verbal cognitive ability. Rhythm perception accounted for 48% of the variance in morpho-syntactic competence after controlling for non-verbal IQ, socioeconomic status, and prior musical activities. Children with higher phonological awareness scores were better able to discriminate complex rhythms than children with lower scores, but not after controlling for IQ. This study is the first to show a relation between rhythm perception skills and morpho-syntactic production in children with typical language development. These findings extend the literature showing substantial overlap of neurocognitive resources for processing music and language.
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There is growing evidence that children with reading difficulties show impaired auditory rhythm perception and impairments in musical beat perception tasks. Rhythmic musical interventions with poorer readers may thus improve rhythmic entrainment and consequently improve reading and phonological skills. Here we compare the effects of a musical intervention for poor readers with a software intervention of known efficacy based on rhyme training and phoneme-grapheme learning. The research question was whether the musical intervention would produce gains of comparable effect sizes to the phoneme-grapheme intervention for children who were falling behind in reading development. Broadly, the two interventions had similar benefits for literacy, with large effect sizes.
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the present study investigated whether the association between music lessons and intelligence is mediated by executive functions. Intelligence and five different executive functions (set shifting, selective attention, planning, inhibition, and fluency) were assessed in 9- to 12-year-old children with varying amounts of music lessons. Significant associations emerged between music lessons and all of the measures of executive function. Executive functions mediated the association between music lessons and intelligence, with the measures of selective attention and inhibition being the strongest contributors to the mediation effect. Our results suggest that at least part of the association between music lessons and intelligence is explained by the positive influence music lessons have on executive functions, which in turn improve performance on intelligence tests.
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several reports have noted significant associations among phonological awareness, early reading skills, and music perception skills in young children. We examined whether music processing skills differentially predicted reading performance in a broad age range of 69 children with and without formal music training. Pitch perception was correlated with phonological awareness, a finding consistent with the hypothesis that basic auditory processing skills underlie the association between music and reading abilities. Nevertheless, the correlation between music skills and reading skills was affected by the presence of formal music training: pitch discrimination predicted reading ability only in children without formal music training. Studies examining the association between music perception and reading (and perhaps other cognitive domains as well) should not ignore the factor of music training.
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A growing body of research suggests that musical training has a beneficial impact on speech processing (e.g., hearing of speech in noise and prosody perception). As this research moves forward two key questions need to be addressed: 1) Can purely instrumental musical training have such effects? 2) If so, how and why would such effects occur? The current paper offers a conceptual framework for understanding such effects based on mechanisms of neural plasticity. The expanded OPERA hypothesis proposes that when music and speech share sensory or cognitive processing mechanisms in the brain, and music places higher demands on these mechanisms than speech does, this sets the stage for musical training to enhance speech processing. When these higher demands are combined with the emotional rewards of music, the frequent repetition that musical training engenders, and the focused attention that it requires, neural plasticity is activated and makes lasting changes in brain structure and function which impact speech processing. Initial data from a new study motivated by the OPERA hypothesis is presented, focusing on the impact of musical training on speech perception in cochlear-implant users. Suggestions for the development of animal models to test OPERA are also presented, to help motivate neurophysiological studies of how auditory training using non-biological sounds can impact the brain's perceptual processing of species-specific vocalizations.
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A small number of studies show that music training is associated with improvements in reading or in its component skills. A central question underlying this present research is whether musical activity can enhance the acquisition of reading skill, potentially before formal reading instruction begins. We explored two dimensions of this question: an investigation of links between kindergartners’ music rhythm skills and their phonological awareness in kindergarten and second grade; and an investigation of whether kindergartners who receive intensive musical training demonstrate more phonological skills than kindergartners who receive less. Results indicated that rhythm skill was related to phonological segmentation skill at the beginning of kindergarten, and that children who received more music training during kindergarten showed improvement in a wider range of phonological awareness skills at the end of kindergarten than children with less training. Further, kindergartners’ rhythm ability was strongly related to their phonological awareness and basic word identification skills in second grade. We argue that rhythm sensitivity is a pre-cursor skill to oral language acquisition, and that the ability to perceive and manipulate time intervals in sound streams may link performance of rhythm and phonological tasks.
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Administered the PPVT—R to 29 1st–5th graders. Posttest administration of the PPVT—R and the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) was conducted 11 mo later. The 11-mo stability coefficient for the PPVT—R was .84, with no significant differences between the 2 administrations. The PPVT—R predicted PIAT subtest and Total Test performance to the following degrees: Spelling (.30), Reading Recognition (.54), Reading Comprehension (.58), Total Test (.59), General Information (.60), and Mathematics (.80). (5 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show for the first time that levels of musical expertise stepwise modulate higher order brain functioning. This suggests that degree of training intensity drives such cerebral plasticity. Participants (non-musicians, amateurs, and expert musicians) listened to a comprehensive set of specifically composed string quartets with hierarchically manipulated endings. In particular, we implemented 2 irregularities at musical closure that differed in salience but were both within the tonality of the piece (in-key). Behavioral sensitivity scores (d') of both transgressions perfectly separated participants according to their level of musical expertise. By contrasting brain responses to harmonic transgressions against regular endings, functional brain imaging data showed compelling evidence for stepwise modulation of brain responses by both violation strength and expertise level in a fronto-temporal network hosting universal functions of working memory and attention. Additional independent testing evidenced an advantage in visual working memory for the professionals, which could be predicted by musical training intensity. The here introduced findings of brain plasticity demonstrate the progressive impact of musical training on cognitive brain functions that may manifest well beyond the field of music processing.
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Introduction: In a recent study, we reported that the accurate perception of beat structure in music ('perception of musical meter') accounted for over 40% of the variance in single word reading in children with and without dyslexia (Huss et al., 2011). Performance in the musical task was most strongly associated with the auditory processing of rise time, even though beat structure was varied by manipulating the duration of the musical notes. Methods: Here we administered the same musical task a year later to 88 children with and without dyslexia, and used new auditory processing measures to provide a more comprehensive picture of the auditory correlates of the beat structure task. We also measured reading comprehension and nonword reading in addition to single word reading. Results: One year later, the children with dyslexia performed more poorly in the musical task than younger children reading at the same level, indicating a severe perceptual deficit for musical beat patterns. They now also had significantly poorer perception of sound rise time than younger children. Longitudinal analyses showed that the musical beat structure task was a significant longitudinal predictor of development in reading, accounting for over half of the variance in reading comprehension along with a linguistic measure of phonological awareness. Conclusions: The non-linguistic musical beat structure task is an important independent longitudinal and concurrent predictor of variance in reading attainment by children. The different longitudinal versus concurrent associations between musical beat perception and auditory processing suggest that individual differences in the perception of rhythmic timing are an important shared neural basis for individual differences in children in linguistic and musical processing.
Article
Current research on the etiology ofdevelopmental dyslexia is generally informed byeither of two major hypotheses. One of theseassumes that the phonological processing ofconsonants and vowels at a segmental levelidentifies the core deficit in developmentaldyslexia and that it cannot be reduced todomain-general deficits of temporal informationprocessing. The other hypothesis holds thatphonological processing deficits aresymptomatic of an underlying, domain-generaldysfunction; and that at least some dyslexiasubtypes are causally related to domain generaldeficits of temporal information processing forauditory and visual stimuli. This report startsfrom the assumption that the terms temporal information processing andphonological processing as applied in currentdyslexia research, are frequently conflated. Further, it assumes that the conflated termsmust be decomposed into their concretebehavioral referents before the causalsignificance of either can be investigatedsystematically.The studies to be summarized in thisreport represents one step toward suchdecomposition. The findings indicated thatduring a motor sequencing task, dyslexicstudents anticipated the signal of anisochronic pacing metronome by intervals thatwere two or three times as long as those ofage matched normal readers or normal adults.These group differences were significant whenparticipants tapped with the preferred indexfinger alone or with both fingers in unison.Dyslexic students also took significantlylonger than normal readers did to recalibratetheir tapping responses when the metronome ratewas experimentally changed in the middle of atrial.In addition, dyslexic students, bycontrast to normal readers, had inordinatedifficulty reproducing simple motor rhythms byfinger tapping, and similar difficultyreproducing the appropriate speech rhythm oflinguistically neutral nonsense syllables.These difficulties were exaggerated whenparticipants had to synchronize theirperformance to an external pacing metronome.The implications of the findings for temporalinformation processing deficits on one hand,and impaired phonological processing on theother, are discussed.
Article
A growing body of research suggests that cognitive functions, such as attention and memory, drive perception by tuning sensory mechanisms to relevant acoustic features. Long-term musical experience also modulates lower-level auditory function, although the mechanisms by which this occurs remain uncertain. In order to tease apart the mechanisms that drive perceptual enhancements in musicians, we posed the question: do well-developed cognitive abilities fine-tune auditory perception in a top-down fashion? We administered a standardized battery of perceptual and cognitive tests to adult musicians and non-musicians, including tasks either more or less susceptible to cognitive control (e.g., backward versus simultaneous masking) and more or less dependent on auditory or visual processing (e.g., auditory versus visual attention). Outcomes indicate lower perceptual thresholds in musicians specifically for auditory tasks that relate with cognitive abilities, such as backward masking and auditory attention. These enhancements were observed in the absence of group differences for the simultaneous masking and visual attention tasks. Our results suggest that long-term musical practice strengthens cognitive functions and that these functions benefit auditory skills. Musical training bolsters higher-level mechanisms that, when impaired, relate to language and literacy deficits. Thus, musical training may serve to lessen the impact of these deficits by strengthening the corticofugal system for hearing.
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Age-related decline in auditory perception reflects changes in the peripheral and central auditory systems. These age-related changes include a reduced ability to detect minute spectral and temporal details in an auditory signal, which contributes to a decreased ability to understand speech in noisy environments. Given that musical training in young adults has been shown to improve these auditory abilities, we investigated the possibility that musicians experience less age-related decline in auditory perception. To test this hypothesis we measured auditory processing abilities in lifelong musicians (N = 74) and nonmusicians (N = 89), aged between 18 and 91. Musicians demonstrated less age-related decline in some auditory tasks (i.e., gap detection and speech in noise), and had a lifelong advantage in others (i.e., mistuned harmonic detection). Importantly, the rate of age-related decline in hearing sensitivity, as measured by pure-tone thresholds, was similar between both groups, demonstrating that musicians experience less age-related decline in central auditory processing.
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Behavioral and neurophysiological transfer effects from music experience to language processing are well-established but it is currently unclear whether or not linguistic expertise (e.g., speaking a tone language) benefits music-related processing and its perception. Here, we compare brainstem responses of English-speaking musicians/non-musicians and native speakers of Mandarin Chinese elicited by tuned and detuned musical chords, to determine if enhancements in subcortical processing translate to improvements in the perceptual discrimination of musical pitch. Relative to non-musicians, both musicians and Chinese had stronger brainstem representation of the defining pitches of musical sequences. In contrast, two behavioral pitch discrimination tasks revealed that neither Chinese nor non-musicians were able to discriminate subtle changes in musical pitch with the same accuracy as musicians. Pooled across all listeners, brainstem magnitudes predicted behavioral pitch discrimination performance but considering each group individually, only musicians showed connections between neural and behavioral measures. No brain-behavior correlations were found for tone language speakers or non-musicians. These findings point to a dissociation between subcortical neurophysiological processing and behavioral measures of pitch perception in Chinese listeners. We infer that sensory-level enhancement of musical pitch information yields cognitive-level perceptual benefits only when that information is behaviorally relevant to the listener.