Relations among musical skills, phonological processing, and early reading ability in preschool children.

Anvari, S., Trainor, L., Woodside, J., Levy, B. (2002). Relations among musical skills, phonological processing, and early reading ability in preschool children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 83(2): 111-130.

Abstract:

This study examined the relationship between phonological awareness, music perception skills, and early reading skills in a population of 100 four and five year-old children. The results showed that music skills correlated with both phonological awareness and reading development. Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that music perception skills contributed unique variance in predicting reading ability, even after variance due to phonological awareness and other cognitive abilities (math, digit span, and vocabulary) were accounted for. The study provides evidence that music perception taps auditory mechanisms related to reading that only partially overlap with those related to phonological awareness, suggesting that both linguistic and nonlinguistic general auditory mechanisms are involved in reading.

Key Findings:

In this study, phonemic awareness is shown to have a strong relationship to musical ability. Such findings suggest the auditory processing necessary for music perception to be related to the auditory processing necessary for phonological awareness and, ultimately reading. Furthermore, music perception is predictive of reading skill even when the variance shared with phonological awareness is removed. Therefore, music perception appears to be tapping auditory mechanisms related to reading skill that only partially overlap with those related to phonological awareness. Auditory memory, vocabulary, and mathematics are not shown to be involved in the relation between music and reading. It is therefore still not understood (and open to future research questions) which processing skills are associated with each, music perception, reading, and phonological awareness.

Significance of the Findings:

This research suggests that early skill with music might enhance reading acquisition as well as other linguistic skills. For children who struggle with reading skills, music interventions may help deficiencies in auditory processing that potentially underlie reading problems.

Methodology:

The aim of the study was to examine the relation between musical processing and phonological awareness in a large sample of young children, as well as to examine how these factors are related to reading development. One hundred four and five year-old children were recruited from schools and daycare centers in the Hamilton-Wentworth region of Canada. The children were administered a battery of tests over the course of five sessions: music tasks that focused on rhythm, melody, and chord processing; a set of phonemic awareness tasks known to predict reading success; and a standardized measure of early reading development (WRAT 3). First explored were the relationships among the music variables and the relationships among the phonological variables. Then, using ordered regression analyses, the researchers examined whether musical variables predicted reading success, even when the contribution from phonemic awareness had been taken into account. A final analysis attempted to uncover some of the more general cognitive variables through which music might influence reading development. Separate analyses were performed in which digit span, vocabulary, and mathematical skill were separately removed in the initial step of a hierarchical regression analysis to examine whether music and/or phonemic awareness continued to predict reading.

Limitations of the Research:

Effects based on gender and racial/ethnic backgrounds are not included in this analysis. Additionally, sampling procedures and demographics, including socio-economic, and racial/ethnic background are not discussed; as a result, the findings of this study may not generalize to all four and five year olds. Although the study cross-referenced skills using many different evaluation methods, the researchers did not indicate that they tested a control group and the identified correlation may be due to other variables. Last, this study is limited in that it was unable to identify specific cognitive variables that may have a role in the link between music perception and reading skills.

Questions to Guide New Research:

The set of underlying skills associated with phonemic awareness and music perception remains an important topic for future research. New studies could address a larger and more diverse population to determine if there is variance in results across these groups of children. Along with these questions, longitudinal research will provide valuable information regarding whether more sophisticated music and reading skills continue to maintain a relationship.