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