Music and Language Development, how do they relate?

I thought I would share just a short portion from my recent research, “The Impact of Music Instruction on Language Development for Children with Dyslexia.”

Music, as much as language, is an innate quality in every child. Some believe that musical knowledge is something that is “beyond words” and is seen as a language of its own (Wallerstedt, 2013). Observe any child during recess or at play and you will find a musical language, singing or making music to accompany pretend play or a game of jump rope. Music and language are all around us, entwined into our lives like a well-woven tapestry. Zoltan Kodály believed that “true musical literacy – the ability to read, write, and think music – is the right of every human being” (Choksy, 1981). Responding to sound is one of the milestones for a newborn and it should take place within the first four months of life (First, 2014). Recent research has shown just how important musical sound is in creating well-defined tonotopic maps, a “virtual piano keyboard stretched across the cortex that represent pitches in a low-to-high spatial arrangement” (Levitin, 2012). Levitin (2012) continues to say; we now know that music activates regions throughout the brain not just a single “musical center.”

While language and music have their own distinct qualities, they do share many foundational elements (Asaridou and McQueen, 2013). Language and music both require a child to hear and interpret how sounds and shapes differ from one another thus requiring both auditory and visual discrimination (Wiggins, 2007). Music is read the same as language, from left to right and top down (Wiggins, 2007). Language development requires the ability to remember words and sounds long enough to gather meaning, and music development requires the ability to remember tunes and songs in order to play or sing them (Wiggins, 2007). Language and music development require an ability to listen and understand (Wiggins, 2007). Phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and fluency are necessary in the development of both language and music (Wiggins, 2007). Sallet and Jentschke (2015) wrote, the strongest overlap between music and language is in prosody, which Patel (2008) defines as the patterns of rhythm, sound, stress, and intonation in a language. Valerio, Seaman, Yap, Santucci, and Tu (2006) makes the point, that children learn language by aurally processing language from their environment and similarly children learn music in the same manner.

So, what does this mean for you and your budding musician – singing and making music together aids in language development. Singing songs with your child also builds vocabulary, parent-child bonding, and many precious memories. It is rainy today in my neighborhood, so maybe you enjoy some songs about rain like “Rain, Rain, Go Away” or “Rain is Falling Down.” Over at The Imagination Tree, there is a really great tutorial about making a rain stick, here is the link

Now you can use the rain stick to make rain sounds with your singing. How many things can your little one come up with that they would do if the rain would just go away or maybe you imagine what it is like to be a rain drop? Either way, I hope you have a musical rainy day.

Here are my resources used in the portion of my research paper I included today:

Asaridou, S. S., & McQueen, J. M. (2013). Speech and music shape the listening brain: evidence for shared domain-general mechanisms. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-14. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00321

Choksy, L. (1981). The Kodály Context: Creating an Environment for Musical Learning. Upper- Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

First Signs, Inc. (n.d.). Hallmark developmental milestones

Levitin, D. J. (2012). What does it mean to be musical? Neuron, 73(4), 633-637. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.01.017

Patel, A. D. (2008). Music, Language, and the Brain. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Sallat, S., & Jentschke, S. (2015). Music perception influences language acquisition: melodic and rhythmic perception in children with specific language impairment. Behavioural Neurology, 2015, 1-10. Retrieved from

Valerio, W. H., Seaman, M. A., Yap, C. C., Santucci, P. M., & Tu, M. (2006). Vocal evidence of toddler music syntax acquisition: a case study. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 170(Fall, 2006), 33-45. Retrieved from

Wallerstedt, C. (2013). ‘Here comes the sausage’: an empirical study of children’s verbal communication during a collaborative music-making activity. Music Education Research,   15(4), 421-434. doi: 10.1080/14613808.2013.812626

Wiggins, D. (2007). Pre-k music and the emergent reader: promoting literacy in a music-enhanced environment. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35(1), 55-64. doi: 10.1007/s10643-007-0167-6

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