Using Music to Develop Literacy Skills

For decades the idea that music and the development of literacy skills are somehow connected has been studied and researched. The research has sorted through many questions like.  Is there a connection between music and improving literacy skills? Is it possible that music influences the development of literacy skills? Is there another kind of correlation between music and literacy skills where one does not influence the other?

Some teachers are of the opinion that music creates an atmosphere that is conducive for the development of literacy skills. Many teachers would agree with this.

There is also the idea that children who have an interest and level of skill in music develop literacy skills faster and more completely. This idea would not indicate that one influences the other, but rather that children who eagerly learn music also have the greater literacy improvement ability. It is possible that one who learns to read and write rapidly may not also be so interested in music. The connection may be a one-way street.

Regarding the influential relationship between the two, the research that has been done over these decades has not formed any concrete evidence that the connection between music and improvement in literacy skills is a fact. However there is a lot of evidence that suggests there is an influential connection. One group of studies that suggests this is presented by Childhood Research Practices (ERCT). While these studies were done in small groups, and cannot be accepted as scientific facts, they used the scientific methods for experimentation.  Their work was well thought out and conducted with care to prevent outside variable interruptions.

According to a study which examined the relationship “between musical abilities and the acquisition of written language” (“Correlational Studies: A First Point of View”), exhaustive test results “enable us to establish links between musical aptitudes and emergent written language. On the other hand, these studies do not allow us to establish a causal relationship between different variables.”  In other words, in this study did not determine that either music, or the ability to grasp literacy skills well had any real influence upon the other.

The other study addressed was  “The Quasi-experimental Studies: Examining the Link between Music Instruction and Emergent Literacy Abilities.”  This study used three groups of students with very specific structures for each, thus establishing the variables. The conclusion of this study was, “. Results obtained at the end of the study revealed that the children “who participated in the experimental program experienced a more significant improvement in the Dunn (1986) test than the other two groups. In their conclusion, the authors suggested that PIMITL activities may have strengthened children’s phonological awareness abilities. “Based on the evidence of the significant correlations of phonological awareness with melody and timbre discrimination and with receptive vocabulary (Anvari et al., 2002), receptive vocabulary development” (Galicia et al., 2006).”

While these studies are not absolutely conclusive, they do give good reason for further research on the subject. If it is determined that music does contribute to an easier and more rapid improvement in literacy, it could lead to some dramatic changes in how we do school.  Music is already being used, and allowed during some portions of student studies. Some teachers play soft music continuously during class. Teachers often allow students to listen to music while they are quietly studying. Music is used in elevators, grocery stores, shopping malls, and other businesses, specifically as a customer manipulator. That term manipulator is not meant to be a negative here, because it helps customers in many ways.

Don McMannis, an expert on children’s music and writer for Edutopia, says music “has positive affects on people’s emotions and creativity.”  He goes on to say that “Music is also an effective, almost magical medium for learning and retaining information,” he adds. “It activates three different centers of the brain at the same time: language, hearing, and rhythmic motor control. By inducing emotions, it also creates a heightened condition of awareness and mental acuity. Words paired with music are far easier to retain. As an example, most of us can remember the words and meanings of songs we haven’t heard for years. Isn’t it interesting how you still remember your ABCs?”

Other useful resources connecting music to literacy are:

“Using Music in Special Education to Develop Language and Literacy ; “Learning Literacy through Music”; “Placing Music at the Centre of Literacy Instruction”; and “Promoting Literacy Through Music”