The Benefits of Singing Lessons for Children

The Benefits of Singing Lessons for Children

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests developing a child’s musical ability does have an impact on their more general intellectual development. Especially in their ability to handle language. This short article provides some background research which points towards the benefits of singing lessons for children.

The link between learning an instrument and language skills is most commonly tested in what are known as longitudinal studies, where groups of mostly similar people are observed over months or years to see what effect their differences have over the long term. For example one study took a group of 24 children and split them into two groups, giving one group music lessons and one group painting lessons. The two groups were then tested over a period of several years on their the ability to recognise the separations between words in continuous speech. The two groups were then compared, finding that the musicians were far better at recognising the separations.

If studies like this seems overly specific it is because they are. Each study proves little on its own and its purpose isn’t to confirm or disprove the idea that music and language learning are connected. Instead these studies isolate aspects of how music and language are linked, and what effect they have on each other. Cumulatively these studies add up to a picture of how the two skills are interwoven.

Increasingly this picture suggests that music lessons have definite benefits for a child’s linguistic development ref.

This stands somewhat to reason. Learning to play an instrument involves regularly practicing a skill that combines concentration, memory, fine motor skills, interpreting sheet music, and close-listening. These skills have crossover with those involved in speaking ability and literacy. As one paper puts it: “From an early age, musicians learn complex motor and auditory skills… which they practice extensively from childhood throughout their entire careers.” ref

There is a caveat to all this though, the benefits come from the active playing of an instrument, not from just listening to music or passive involvement in group lessons ref.

 

It is in the doing of music rather than in just learning it, that makes the difference.

Image: Copyright StasB

Rhythm and Language

Rhythm and Language

The link between music and language is a hot topic, and one that can be highly theoretical. However, in among the strange claims of whale-song boosting the IQ of unborn babies there are ways of teasing out details of this link in practical ways.

To take a single example: a team at Cambridge University compared how children with Specific Language Impairments (SLIs) dealt with aspects of speech and music such as pitch, phonology (the units of sound that make up language) and rhythm (the tempo of those sounds) ref. By comparing the children’s performance on music and speech tests the team could then see if the two were linked.

The children were split into three groups – those with no SLI to act as a control group, and representing the general population. Then there were two groups of children with SLIs: those with otherwise normal phonology and reading (Pure SLI) and those whose phonology and reading was also impaired (SLI PPR). They were then subjected to a wide variety of tests including things like picking the non-rhyming word out of a triplet (cat, dog, sat), tapping along to a metronome, and identifying which sounds were the same in triplets when the pitch of one item was altered.

The children with otherwise normal phonology and reading showed no significant difference to the control group, except in the ability to tap in time to the metronome while the group of children with reading and phonology difficulties found most of the tests significantly more difficult.

From this study it seems that the ability to recognise rhythm in music is tied to the development of language, and that activities working on rhythm could have a positive impact on children with SLIs. It also indicates that music and rhythm could positively affect children with SLI difficulties in reading and phonology.

written by Jon Pill

Voicebox Part 2

Voicebox Part 2

Professional voice users such as teachers, performers and singers can develop voice problems due to poor voice technique and vocal health. But how can this be resolved?

I spent an evening with voice specialist  and speech therapist Madeleine Ashton to find out more. We left Part 1 of this interview at a cliffhanger – what therapies can benefit those experiencing voice problems?

LMT – what is it?
Laryngeal Massage Therapy.  This is like physiotherapy for the larynx, it’s about stretching the muscles and releasing tension in the larynx. It’s said to be beneficial for any type of voice problem, but particularly for Muscle Tension Dysphonia (see part 1). It’s about knowing how to stretch the muscles to help achieve muscle relaxation. Then the client becomes aware of this sensation of relaxation and tries to replicate it themselves.How many sessions does it take?
In theory you can do this in one session, but really it depends. If the underlying issue isn’t dealt with then the problem can recur.

So, for example, if a teacher finds their throat is often tight and hoarse, is that something LMT could work for?

Yes, teachers often use their voices a lot without necessarily having much idea of what is happening with their voice, so you would need to find out what they were doing to cause the tension so that you can prevent it recurring.

And that’s something you do?
Yes, I try to do manual therapy with anyone I think it would be beneficial for. Some people hate having others touch their necks, so you need to build a relationship first. There are also exercises that you can do which can be just as effective, as people get into a routine of doing them.What is the most interesting part of your job?
The people, and the stories that they tell. Voice clients tend to be talkers! So you do get into some interesting conversations with people.


Thank you Madeleine!

When we speak and when we sing we use the same set of apparatus – what affects the speaking voice can affect the singing voice and vice versa. Want to know more about how singing lessons at Punch Vocals can complement speech targets? Drop me a message here.

If you want to know more about Voicebox or if you feel you would benefit from advice on one or more of the topics mentioned, please contact Madeleine through her website here.

Voicebox Part 1

Voicebox Part 1

Speech is fascinating: how the human body physically produces sound, and how the brain orchestrates it. 

We use the same set of apparatus for both speech and singing – the lungs, diaphragm, larynx, vocal chords, and tongue to name a few. Not long ago I met with Speech Therapist Madeleine Ashton, from Voicebox, who specializes in the treatment of the larynx. 

Professional voice users, including singers, teachers, and public speakers can develop voice problems through extensive use of the voice. As a vocal coach my job is to promote and train singers in good technique and prevent problems from happening or reoccurring. If problems do occur a voice specialist speech therapist such as Madeleine can help. I met with Madeleine to find out more:

Maddie, what do you do at Voicebox? 

VoiceBoxBristol is a speech and language therapy practice focusing on laryngeal disorders, swallowing problems or any other problem related to the larynx.

What types of conditions do people come to you with?

A large part of my work involves people with Muscle Tension Dysphonia (MTD), which is basically when the muscles that control the function of the larynx and the vocal chords become really tight. This affects the quality of someone’s voice, it might become strained, hoarse, rough or they may even lose their voice totally.

What causes this? 

It can be triggered by a virus, but it’s usually a case of something tipping the balance, perhaps there’s a problem such as reflux, then for some reason they become ill or fatigued and it kicks their larynx into functioning in this way.

Why does this happen?

It’s like their vocal chords are working at 150% all the time.

It’s a functional disorder, but there’s often a psychological component to it as well, for example emotional stress or a background of anxiety, which is taken on at a subconscious level. The way the larynx is working is affected by the psychological issue.

There are also organic voice disorders such as vocal nodules, which professional voice users can get from using their voice a lot on a daily basis. It’s caused by the impact of the vocals chords – little calluses build up where the chords vibrate against each other.

How would you recognize if you had vocal nodules?

The nodules themselves can’t be felt, although there may be muscle tension, which can cause discomfort. Your voice would sound hoarse and would be diagnosed by a ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) specialist. Voice therapy is important even if the nodules are removed because if the voice user doesn’t change how they use their voice the nodules can recur.

Want to know more about different therapies that can help voice recovery? Find out more in Part2… coming soon!