Children love to sing and make music, and recent studies have shown that these musical tendencies actually benefit the early development of language and cognitive skills.
A study conducted at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) by theorists Anthony Brandt, Molly Gebrian, and L. Robert Slevc, revolutionizes the original thought that music is merely supportive and does not benefit language development.
Image courtesy of Kaeru Onou
Co-author Anthony Brandt theorized that the spoken language is a special type of music. Typically viewed by humans as a fundamental of intelligence, music is often treated as being derived from language, or depending on it. Brandt argues that from a developmental perspective, music comes first, and language arises from musical knowledge.
How Babies Acquire Language
The study theorizes that children are first introduced to spoken language as a type of vocal performance. Multiple studies were cited to demonstrate the brain capabilities of newborns, as compared to adults. As adults predominantly focus on speech and the words involved, infants do not have the experience and the comprehension at this point in their development. Instead of focusing on words, they pay attention to the pitch, the emotional tone of what is being spoken, and the rhythmic and phonemic patterns and consistencies. Later on in development, they establish the meaning of words through learning and association. Within the first year of their lives, they can distinguish and key in their native language, as well as their home’s musical culture, and becoming competent in it by ages three to four.
Image courtesy of Dean Wissing
Brandt noted that language is commonly defined as a symbolic medium for communication, with a vast array of different meanings and syntax. He believes that we don’t just speak to be heard, but to be understood – whether it be to declare love, order a meal, or ask for directions.
Music and Language Are Connected
Researchers had previously discovered though another study that the same areas of the brain which process language, process music. This had been debated for a long time, but scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center verified that not only do the two share the same centers, but also have an underlying section that connects the two. This section assists in connecting the two, and in determining the “rules” of music and language, such as syntax and harmony.
Image courtesy of Dean Wissing
Using the results from that study helped determine the connections between the beginning developments of language learning, and revealed many similarities between music and linguistics. As an example, the recognition of the sounds of different consonants results in an accelerated processing in the brain’s temporal lobe. Recognition of the differing timbre of various instruments results in the same processing, and at the same speeds.
In a similar study, researchers designed a set of two training programs aimed at preschool children in visual art and music. After twenty days of involvement with the program, the music-based training group displayed improved performance in verbal intelligence. Ninety percent of the sample displayed this development, showing that music improved their high-level cognitive functions.