Rhythm is a multidimensional skill set

To keep a beat, our brains have to get the auditory and motor cortices to first synchronise and then maintain that synchronisation as small things change in the music. To maintain a rhythm, our brains need to do all of that plus constantly monitor how the rhythm is fitting into the beat. It looks easy, however, it is very hard.

In this study, researchers tried to take out that multidimensional skill set to see if two of the rhythmic skills related to two language skills. Why would the researchers connect rhythm and language skills together? This is because both rhythm and language skills require the same type of syncopation and variation pathways in the brain. Clever right!

The researchers looked at two different language skills – Phonological awareness and rapid naming. These skills are defined as;

Rapid Automatized Naming (also known as Rapid Automatic Naming or RAN) is the ability to name letters, symbols, words, or objects in a quick and automatic manner. This is your ability to retrieve information, rapidly and automatically without effort. When you have strong rapid automatic naming skills, it is so easy to bring up information that it is like you didn’t even have to think about it.

Phonological awareness is a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language – parts such as words, syllables, and onsets and rimes. Children who have phonological awareness are able to identify and make oral rhymes, can clap out the number of syllables in a word, and can recognise words with the same initial sounds like ‘money’ and ‘mother.’

What did the researchers find? Well, their findings were very interesting.

  • If the students (aged between 5-8 years) could drum to a beat, their rapid naming was strong, but their phonological awareness was not
  • If the students (aged between 5-8 years) could tap rhythmic patterns, their phonological awareness was strong, but their rapid naming was not.

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Does it then follow that if the students could drum to a beat and tap rhythm patterns, then their rapid naming and phonological awareness was strong? The researchers may well be looking at that next, but this research finding could point to a targeted intervention for students who are struggling with one of these language skills and not the other.

Additionally, as beat keeping and rhythmic tapping are foundational activities of music programs for students between 5-8 years of age, we now know how music activities enhance language skills.

Read more here

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