Music Lessons Improve Enunciation in “At-Risk” Children

Ashley Bostian, Guest Contributer •

Within the past decade, a surprising amount of research has come out relating the correlation of music training to brain development. A recent study wanted to prove that two years of participation in music lessons would dramatically improve the neurophysiological distinction of speech sounds, a phonetically distinct unit of speech. Their study included 44 children between the ages of 4 and 8. Divided into two groups, the subjects were randomly assigned to either one year of music lessons, followed by training or two years of immediate music lessons.

According to the Journal of Neuroscience and a researcher in this study, “This is the first demonstration of biological changes in auditory processing following participation in community music programs using a randomized longitudinal design. These changes were in the neurophysiological distinction of contrastive speech syllables during passive listening after active music training had stopped. This suggests that music training transferred to non-music listening settings to influence automatic auditory processing.”

Music has been known for improvement within the nervous system function, neurophysiological distinction of stop consonants and a neural mechanism linked to reading and language skills, one of which being the primary study of The Mozart Effect. First direct evidence that community music lessons increased neural processing for at-risk children suggested that repetitive and active engagement with sound developed neural function.

Professor of Music Education at East Tennessee State University Mary Dave Blackman suggests that the increase of brain and music related studies are occurring more often due to advocacy for music education as a whole. Blackman said, “People are always looking for more evidence. They are trying to gather as much research as they can to support having music in schools, period.”

Nonetheless, researchers were intrigued by their findings and the extent of brain improvement. The study found that there was improvement in the neurophysiological distinction of contrastive speech sounds, but only in the children who engaged in music lessons for more than two years. This research was the first demonstration of biological changes in auditory processing.

The improvements revealed that children will not only be better musicians but readers who show “stronger neural distinctions of these same syllables.” Each subject is from an underserved environment in Los Angeles, California, where the students were are at a high risk for academic and social difficulties.

In response to the study, Blackman stated, “We have so many ways to measure brain activity now that we didn’t have before. The new technologies actually tell more about what happens in the brain when you interact with music. It is a combination of the two [advocacy for music education and technology].”

By directing children’s attention to meaningful acoustic cues in their environments, music training may have facilitated the sound-meaning connections that drive neural plasticity, observed here as an improvement in the neural distinction of speech syllables.

Children’s attention is often cued by their environment. Acoustic and music training facilitated the “sound-meaning connections” that drive neural plasticity.

According to the Journal of Neuroscience, “…The improvements observed in neurophysiological distinction of speech sounds were driven by top-down modifications to automatic auditory processing, with music training directing children’s attention to meaningful sounds of their environment.”

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