The connection between timbre and phonemic awareness

Improve Listening Skills with Kindermusik

Improve Listening Skills with KindermusikIn response to a popular holiday song, “Do you hear what I hear?” the answer just might be: maybe. Hearing distinct differences in sounds takes practice. For example, back in August and September, early childhood teachers welcomed new students into the classroom. On that first day of school, the classroom full of children sounded like, well, a classroom full of children. By November, however, teachers learned to identify the distinct voices of each student. In music, we call distinct sounds timbre and it helps us distinguish the sound of a violin from a guitar; Jack’s voice from Aidan’s voice; and even aids in phonemic awareness by helping us hear the difference between the sound of a letter “v” and the sound of the letter “b.”

How people perceive timbre

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University recently created a computer model that mirrored how people make judgment calls regarding timbre. In the study, participants listened to two sounds played by different musical instruments and rated how similar the sounds appeared. The computer model recognized similar subtle differences in sounds that human participants did. For example, both acknowledged that the violin and cello appeared to be closer in sound to each other than a violin and flute and wind and percussive instruments were the most different.

“There is much to be learned from how the human brain processes complex information such as musical timbre and translating this knowledge into improved computer systems and hearing technologies,” researcher Moanya Elhilali said in the article, “Music in our ears: The Science of Timbre.

We look forward to the next phase of this research!

Connection between timbre, phonemes, and early literacy

In ABC Music & Me, our early literacy and language curriculum, children explore the concepts of timbre whenever they compare the differences between and among sounds. Each week in class, children may participate in active listening, singing, vocal play, and instrument exploration activities to teach them auditory discrimination. That same sound discrimination helps children hear the minute differences between letter sounds or phonemes, which supports early literacy and language development. Plus, researchers agree that music improves phonemic awareness in young children.

For more information about using ABC Music & Me to teach young children early literacy and language development, email us at

Singing to young children supports early language development

Singing a song or two (or 50!) a day to even the youngest child can help early language development. Hearing a parent or teacher sing a song requires a child to listen for the individual notes combined with their rhythmic values. In much the same way, early language development requires children to hear speech sounds and begin to divide them into individual sounds or phonemes.

Sally Goddard Blythe reiterates the importance of singing to young children for early language development in her book, The Genius of Natural Childhood. In an article published in The Guardian, Blythe said: “Song is a special type of speech. Lullabies, songs and rhymes of every culture carry the ‘signature’ melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child’s ear, voice and brain for language.” In the same article, Blythe contends that singing to young children can help ward off later language development problems.

She goes on to say that “Children’s response to live music is different from recorded music. Babies are particularly responsive when the music comes directly from the parent. Singing along with a parent is for the development of reciprocal communication.”

You can read the entire article: Singing to Children May Help Development of Language Skills

Music classes support early language development

With more than 30 years of experience in using music as the vehicle for learning, we understand how to tap into the power of music to connect with children, families, and teachers around the world. In private studios, public schools, childcare centers, and at home, children, parents, and teachers enjoy participating in our fun, developmentally appropriate and research-based music education programs that support early language development, early literacy development, parent involvement in early childhood education, and more.

If you are a parent looking for a music class for toddlers, babies, or big kids at a local Kindermusik studio, try our Class Finder.

If you are a childcare center or school looking to increase your students’ early language and literacy skills using music, email us at