Piano, Not Extra Reading, is Key to Kids' Language Skills

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Kids piano and reading skills

It’s difficult getting kids (or adults, for that matter) to read these days. So if you’re looking to improve your children’s language skills, consider skipping those extra reading lessons and instead plunk them down in front of a piano.

Or so says a new study from MIT, which shows that when it comes to kindergarteners, piano, not reading, is key to kids’ language skills. Specifically, kids who took six months of piano lessons fare better at differentiating consonants and vowels than did kids who were tasked with reading more.

Why are those skills important? Because kids who learn to process language and discriminate between auditory signals enjoy stronger neural connections where communication is involved.

There are positive benefits to piano education in young kids, and it looks like for recognizing differences between sounds including speech sounds, it’s better than extra reading.

In other words, your child becomes a better communicator thanks to those piano lessons. And while numerous studies have shown the strong connection between music and kids’ intellectual development, the MIT study is the first to show a specific link to kids’ ability to discern the sounds of words.

Electroencephalography (EEG) also was used to measure neural activity in the participants’ brains when they listened to changing pitches in a series of tones. Not surprisingly, kids who took piano lessons showed appreciable changes in brain activity, suggesting this might be a key reason why they’re better able to distinguish between words.

“There are positive benefits to piano education in young kids, and it looks like for recognizing differences between sounds including speech sounds, it’s better than extra reading,” said¬†Robert Desimone, a senior author of the study and director of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

Alas, school systems across the country continue to cut funding for arts training, which means fewer kids are enjoying access to the music lessons that help their brains grow.

Piano lessons, noted Desimone, did a better job developing kids’ linguistic skills than the extra reading assignments. Yet schools that are struggling with poor reading comprehension and language scores, are more apt to “get rid of the arts education and just have more reading.

“If children who received music training did as well or better than children who received additional academic instruction, that could be a justification for why schools might want to continue to fund music,” he concluded.

 

 

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