Reifinger, James L. “The Relationship of Pitch Sight-Singing Skills With Tonal Discrimination, Language Reading Skills and Academic Ability in Children.” Journal of Research in Music Education 66, no. 1 (2018): 71-91.


The study investigates correlates that could explain variance in beginning sight-singing achievement, including tonal discrimination, reading fluency, reading comprehension and academic ability. Both curriculum-based and standardized tests were used, including the Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation, Otis-Lennon School Ability Test and Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. Sight-singing ability of students in second grade was individually assessed for pitch accuracy using four-note tonal patterns following a 16-week instructional period, and again eight weeks later, following a period when students did not practice. A factor analysis explained 62% of the variance across 13 variables, revealing correlated factors of music ability, reading ability and academic ability. Regression analyses with individual variables as predictors indicated that significant variance in sight-singing achievement — beyond that explained by pitch matching ability ― could be explained by reading comprehension ability. Similar results were found with both sight-singing tests. Findings are discussed in relation to Aniruddh D. Patel’s shared syntactic integration resource hypothesis and the need to advocate for music education programs.

Key Findings:

The study found that three factors associated with academic skill were significant in explaining the variance in student’s achievement in sight-singing. Specifically, results showed that reading achievement correlated positively with music achievement. The researchers found that there is a positive relationship between a student’s music achievement and their academic ability, as measured by academic assessments such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Further, the tonal discrimination measure ― which is purportedly a measure of music aptitude ― had stronger ties to the general academic ability factor than the music achievement factor in the study.

Significance of the Findings:

This study suggests music and language syntax domains are related and found that ability in reading comprehension explains variance in sight-singing achievement. This research examined the interrelationship of pitch sight-singing achievement with other variables that have been shown by previous research to be related to music achievement in general, including tonal discrimination, general academic ability and language reading measures of reading fluency and reading comprehension. The findings suggest a robust association between reading comprehension and notation–singing achievement. Music achievement as a factor also showed a strong positive relationship with the general academic ability factor.


Participants in this study ― 170 second-grade students, consisting of 87 girls and 83 boys and ranging in age from 6.25 to 8.75 years old at the midpoint of the study ― attended three public schools in an urban school district in northeastern United States. The students participated in a prescribed program of sight-singing instruction during a 25-minute portion of general music classes taking place once per week for 16 sessions.

Various measures were used to assess the students’ achievement in academic and music skills. Sight-singing performance was assessed with two separate tests that were administered following the instructional period. Data were also collected from additional tests administered during the year, assessing the students’ abilities in tonal discrimination, linguistic reading fluency and comprehension, and general academic ability. The students’ academic ability was assessed with the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test. To assess linguistic reading ability, students were individually administered a subtest of the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. Reading ability was also assessed with curriculum-based assessments constructed by the publisher of the students’ reading textbook.

Limitations of the Research:

Limitations of this study include the relatively short 16-week instructional time frame, the young age of the students, the inclusion of all second-grade students at the three school sites (n=170) and not accounting for any special considerations or learning differences and the types of assessments used to gauge the correlations which may contain variables relative to the differences of the learners.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Future research is needed to examine:

  • How does the underlying association of reading comprehension and music reading achievement relate to cognitive processing?
  • How does the development of rhythm reading and performance skills impact reading achievement?
  • How does the development of sight-singing skills with materials that incorporate rhythm and pitch impact reading achievement?