Engaging in music classes may boost children’s literacy, study suggests

Actively engaging in music classes can help improve literacy in children, suggests research published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

In the study, scientists at Northwestern University used electrode wires with button sensors to monitor brain responses in students. Study authors observed that those youth who actively engaged in music classes scored higher on literacy tests and exhibited improved language functioning than those students that appeared more passive during class.

"Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement— attendance and class participation— predicted the strength of neural processing after music training," study lead author Nina Kraus, a professor in communication sciences, and neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern University, said in a press release.

Researchers’ findings also suggest that the type of music class matters: Students who played musical instruments exhibited more improved neural processing compared to the students who attended a music appreciation class.

"Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain," said Kraus, director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

Researchers did not use an active control group but rather looked for differences within the group of children participating in the classes, which were run by the nonprofit community music program Harmony Project, based in Los Angeles.

Previous studies out of Northwestern based on Harmony Project data have shown that two years of music training, rather than one, improved the brain's ability to distinguish similar-sounding syllables, a skill linked to literacy, according to the press release.

"Music, then, can't be thought of as a quick fix," Kraus said.