Slater, J., Tierney, A. & Kraus, N. (2013). At-Risk Elementary School Children with One Year of Classroom Music Instruction Are Better at Keeping a Beat. PLoS ONE, 8(10). 1-9. 


This study, carried out in collaboration with the Harmony Project, a non-profit organization providing free music education to underserved children in Los Angeles, assessed the beat-keeping skills in a group of elementary school children (ages 6 – 9) who had received one year of musical training as compared to a similar group of children with no musical training. Findings from this study revealed that fundamental time-keeping skills may be strengthened by short term music training. As performance on simple tapping tasks correlate with critical abilities outside of music, including cognitive and linguistic skills, this study suggests that music programs may support early literacy development particularly in at-risk populations.

Key Findings:

Children who receive one year of classroom based music instruction were significantly better able to maintain a steady beat during tapping tests than children who have had no musical instruction. Also, after one year of training the ability to hold a tempo in memory is enhanced suggesting that listening skills were also improved by music training.

Significance of the Findings:

This study is part of a growing body of research linking musical training with the possibility of increased literacy skill development. There is increasing evidence of links between rhythmic abilities and reading skills while abnormal rhythmic performance is associated with language deficits such as dyslexia. However, no previous studies have investigated the relationship between music instruction and beat-keeping abilities in young children. Therefore it significant to determine that there are rhythmic advantages resulting from short term music training for young, at-risk populations.


Participants were recruited from the waitlist for the Harmony Project program. They were randomly assigned to either the training (29 children) or control (31 children) group. None of the children had received any kind of musical instruction previously. Because the groups were chosen from the waitlist it can be assumed that the groups were well-matched for student motivation and parent support. The training group began music classes one year in advance of the control group. After one year of music training all participants were assessed by use of a tapping test. The tapping test is administered one-on-one and children were given time to practice use of the tapping test devices before the test. The children tapped along with a beat and were asked to continue to hold the beat on their own after the sound stopped. Tapping times were recorded on computer software. This software was also used to analyze the test results. The data between the training and control groups was then compared using a series of ANOVAs, a statistical method used to test the difference between two or more factors.

Limitations of the Research:

This study does not rule out the possibility that children engaged in musical training have a greater interest in music and may be more motivated to perform well on rhythm related tasks.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Further research is needed to determine if the benefits of early music training on temporal processing – the rate at which one can process auditory information – are maintained into adulthood.