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14-07-2011 | Article

Musical meter perception critical for phonological development


Free abstract

MedWire News: Accurately perceiving musical meter appears to be important for phonological development, research suggests.

Investigators report that musical metrical sensitivity predicted phonological awareness and reading development, accounting for more than 60% of the variance in reading ability.

"This may suggest that individual differences in metrical perception act as a rate-limiting factor on reading development," write Usha Goswami (University of Cambridge, UK) and colleagues in the journal Cortex.

Metrical structure plays an organizational function in language phonology, aiding in the development of rhythm, stress, and speech intonation.

Rhythm, for example, in the form of syllable stress, is critical to the sequential organization of sounds in speech.

There is evidence, however, that the perception of musical meter might be impaired in children with dyslexia. The researchers propose that individual differences in perceiving meter might be related to auditory rhythm perception, and subsequently related to phonological development.

In the present study, the researchers devised a series of metrical arrangements based on three repetitions of groups of two to five notes played on real instruments.

The sequences varied in musical time, with researchers varying the length of the stronger notes. A total of 64 children with typical development and children with dyslexia were asked to decide if the musical arrangements were the same or different.

The perception of musical meter was associated with individual differences in rise time - the time it takes for a sound to reach its peak intensity.

The children with dyslexia were significantly less sensitive to the auditory rise time than the control children.

In general, children with developmental dyslexia performed more poorly than the controls in the musical meter task.

The detection of musical meter was also a strong predictor of reading and spelling development. The researchers found that the musical meter task accounted for 42% of the unique variance in reading and 28% of the unique variance of spelling. It also accounted for more than 25% of the unique variance in phonological awareness.

Goswami and colleagues point out that stressed syllables have longer rise times, and that rise time helps in the perception of rhythm in speech.

Being able to perceive stressed and unstressed syllables is needed for "efficient perception of phonology in language," they note.

Future interventions based on musical games might provide unsuspected reading benefits, they add.

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