Home Mind & Brain Researchers Explore How Learning to Play an Instrument Could Boost Reading and Memory Skills in Children

Researchers Explore How Learning to Play an Instrument Could Boost Reading and Memory Skills in Children

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Can learning to play an instrument benefit reading and memory abilities in school children? Researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of Aberdeen are trying to find out.  

The study which is a collaboration with the University of Dundee is already underway, and more than 40 families have already taken part. However, the team are looking for more children aged between one and eight years old to get involved.  

Dr Ana Klimovich-Gray, lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Aberdeen and who is leading the research said: “We are interested in how learning music can have a wider impact on developing minds, including memory, phonological awareness, and reading fluency abilities.  

“Specifically, we are focussing on a brain mechanism called neural entrainment. Neural entrainment is the capacity of the brain to synchronize to external sounds like music or speech, where neurons fire in sync to the beat, aiding in speech processing and long-term enhancing reading skills.” 

Maria Garcia-de-Soria, PhD student in the School of Psychology, and co-investigator, adds: “Picture your brain moving to the rhythm of someone speaking or to a song’s beat. This synchronization is crucial for understanding speech in noisy places; it’s like your brain tuning into the speaker’s frequency. When your brain is in sync with speech it’s easier to catch and understand each word. This rhythmic dance with words boosted by music training may improve reading abilities over the long term.” 

The study will compare two groups of children, one undergoing music training and another involved in alternative extracurricular activities such as sports, scouts, or after-school clubs. Through a range of assessments including electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements and behavioural tasks they will explore how music training might enhance cognitive abilities related to reading development.  

Maria Garcia-de-Soria adds: “Early detection allows educators and parents to implement strategies that address specific needs, promoting academic success among young learners.  

“By gaining more insight into the positive effects of music training on cognitive development, particularly in areas such as memory and phonics, this study may guide the development of targeted interventions for children struggling with reading difficulties.  

“Educators could incorporate more music and rhythmic-based activities into their teaching methods or academic curriculum, recognizing its potential to enhance reading skills and overall academic performance”. 

Dr Brian Mathias, lecturer in the School of Psychology and collaborator in the study, said: “Understanding the neural mechanisms underlying these differences provides valuable insights into how we can support children in their reading journey and by understanding the neural changes associated with music training, we can identify effective music-focused methods and activities to support children with varying reading abilities. 

“Ultimately, this study has the potential to equip individuals with the knowledge to incorporate more music-focused activities into their everyday lives, potentially benefiting young children’s reading abilities.” 

“Because this research uses so many measures, and follows children over time, it has the potential to show how children with music training might develop additional cognitive benefits compared with children who do other out-of-school activities.” Dr Anne Keitel from the University of Dundee added. 

Dr Klimovich-Gray said: “Identifying differences in reading development from an early age is crucial for effective educational interventions and support and advancements in scientific understanding of children’s cognitive development would not be possible without the participation of parents and their children.” 

If you are interested in taking part, or would like some more information, contact Maria Garcia-de-Soria (m.garciadesoriabazan.23@abdn.ac.uk). 

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