Sound First – Symbol Second

Music and reading

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s how we acquire any language – sound first – symbol second. We learn to speak before we learn to read. Music is the same way – we mimic what we hear before we can read it on the page. We learn by rote before we learn through understanding. Our last post talked about music’s positive impact on language learning. Well…music also has a positive impact on reading skill. Dr. Boyle explores the latest research on music and reading.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Think about your musical experiences as a child. Whether you realized it or not, you learned new words through music. In my main profession as a choral conductor, I learn new words through music regularly; poetry drives what I do. I keep a dictionary right by my piano so I am able to look up words I don’t know as I come across them. I am grateful for this extra gift music gives me.

We have shared research many times that point toward music’s role in increasing cognitive skills in children. Cognition, the ability to form and process memory, learn new information, also includes understanding written information. Music is about patterns, particularly music to which young children are often exposed. Lots of repetition is found in this type of music, and regularly singing this music helps kids recognize patterns elsewhere.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Research on Music and Reading

Studies conducted at the University of Toronto and Johns Hopkins have supported the concept that participation in musical activities increases cognitive skill. Drs. Nina Kraus and Samira Anderson of Northwestern University produced a study that indicated the ability to keep a steady beat related to reading readiness. In the study, subjects were separated through assessment into two groups: those who could keep a study beat (synchronizers) and those who found it challenging (non-synchronizers).

“The synchronizers also had higher pre-reading skills (phonological
processing, auditory short-term memory, and rapid
naming) compared with non-synchronizers. Overall, the results
supported the idea that accurate temporal processing is
important for developing the foundational skills needed in order
to learn how to read.”

– Beat-Keeping Ability Relates to Reading Readiness/Kraus and Anderson


What does this mean?

Developing musical skills early has a positive impact on reading ability. The reality is this: those non-synchronizers? It is completely possible to improve their rhythmic ability through regular musical activity. This then has a clear effect on cognitive skill and all that that encompasses.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

When is the right time to start?

Now! Start now! Get those kids involved in musical activities – and Kindermusik is a perfect place to start. In a recent articleDr. Robert A. Cutietta, Dean of the USC Thorton School of Music, lays it out plainly:

“There is a growing (and convincing) body of research that indicates a “window of opportunity” from birth to age nine for developing a musical sensibility within children. During this time, the mental structures and mechanisms associated with processing and understanding music are in the prime stages of development, making it of utmost importance to expose children in this age range to music.”

PBS Parents/Robert A. Cutietta

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]From birth to age nine! Don’t wait. Get them involved as soon as you feel comfortable doing so and your son or daughter will reap a host of benefits from their involvement, setting the stage for a lifetime of musical appreciation. Not everyone will go on to be the principal violinist of the New York Phil, or sing at Lollapalooza, but the stronger the musical foundation a child has, the more enjoyment will be found in the vast world of music.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][class_finder_form css=”.vc_custom_1469711353415{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-right: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;padding-left: 20px !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Music Makes Kids Hungry For Learning (And Reading!)

Check out Kindermusik’s guest post, featured on the Reading Rainbow blog!


(As we close out “Music In Our Schools” month we’d like to share this very special guest post by our partners at Kindermusik. We hope after reading this you’ll be inspired to check out some of the GREAT books and videos on our new “Music Mountain” island in the Reading Rainbow App! If you haven’t gotten hooked on it already, that is…)

At Kindermusik, we like to say that music and reading go together like milk and cookies or like peanut butter and jelly. Think about it. How many of us learned the alphabet through song, or to count syllables by clapping our hands, or even about the rhythm of language thanks to nursery rhymes?

Reading with children—even infants—20 minutes a day can be one of the most important activities parents do to support literacy development. Being held by a parent during story time promotes bonding, helps young children connect the sounds of words with pictures, and models for children how to read a book. However, early literacy development extends beyond the lap of a parent. It also involves the growth of other key skills such as phonological awareness, auditory discrimination, active listening, and print awareness. Music naturally builds those skills (and more!) in children and makes them hungry for learning and reading!


4 ways music builds early literacy skills

“In our more than 35 years of teaching young children through music, we get the privilege of seeing how music actively engages children of all abilities in the learning process,” explains Michael G. Dougherty, Chairman and CEO of Kindermusik International. “Now, in the past couple of decades, the research is catching up to what we’ve experienced: music impacts literacy development in profound ways. In fact, a new independent study showed that children participating in our own early literacy curriculum for just 30 minutes a week experience a 32 percent literacy gain.”

Take a look at four of the many ways music supports early literacy development.

1. Music supports phonological awareness

In learning how to read, young children need to understand that words are made up of discrete sounds and that these sounds can be used to read and build words. Children with phonological and phonemic awareness show greater success at learning to read. Research indicates that our brains process music and language in similar ways because they share fundamental connections. Consider:

  • Spoken language is comprised of a stream of connected phonemes.
  • Music is comprised of a series of discrete musical notes or tones.
  • Understanding a spoken sentence requires the successful auditory processing of the individual phonemes combined with the intonation communicated by pitch.
  • Hearing music requires listening for the individual notes combined with their rhythmic values.

Musical activity: Read favorite nursery rhymes together. Take turns clapping to the rhythms of the words. This helps your child listen for and recognize that words are made up of different sounds.

2. Children practice auditory discrimination through music.

Related to phonological awareness, the ability to sort and categorize sounds strengthens children’s listening acuity or their ability to hear and understand clearly. Music gives children many opportunities to practice auditory discrimination. For example, by exploring the different sounds of drums and labeling them loud or soft, or by dancing fast or slow when the music changes tempo, children practice sorting and categorizing sounds. All this practice ultimately leads to better phonemic awareness and boosts reading abilities.

Musical activity: Using instruments around the house—even wooden spoons and plastic containers—take turns playing loud and soft, fast and slow, or short and long sounds. Label what you hear. Next, put on some music and dance fast or slow. Turn the music up. How would you dance “loud”? How would you dance “soft”?

3. Music promotes active listening.

Children need to learn how to identify and discriminate between sounds and tune into those sounds that matter most. During the school years, children will spend an estimated 50 to

75 percent of classroom time listening to the teacher, to other students, or to media. Developing strong active listening skills prepares children for school readiness, including language and literacy development. Musical activities such as listening for the sounds of the pipe organ in a Bach piece, using the wood blocks to produce a staccato sound, or moving smoothly when the music changes from staccato to legato, helps children practice active listening.

Musical activity: While listening to music together, try to identify all of the instruments in a song. Is that a drum, guitar, violin? What instrument was that? Try this activity using letter sounds. Make the M sound. Ask your child to identify the letter and name an animal that starts with that letter. Take turns.

4. Music classes build print awareness.

Learning how to recognize and read signs and symbols correctly takes practice and is an early step to knowing the letters and corresponding sounds of the alphabet. Both music and reading literacy depend upon a child’s ability to make those connections. Learning to read musical notation uses a similar set of cognitive skills and pattern recognition to those found in reading. In music, a child might explore graphic notation or the relationship between printed symbols and the associated sounds when they see a picture of a large dot and hear or play a loud sound, or when they see a picture of dashes and hear or play quiet sounds.

Musical activity: Put on your favorite songs and draw pictures together to represent what you hear. Ask your child to talk about each creation, including color choices and shapes. The drawings represent the notes heard in much the same way letter sounds correspond to words.

Experience for yourself how music supports early literacy development. Find a local Kindermusik class at You can also visit the Music Mountain island—featuring Kindermusik content—in the Reading Rainbow app!