Did Sesame Street Have It Right?

It's not just about phonics: A new study shows music instruction may improve language-processing skills by altering the brain stem
By Nikhil Swaminathan

Research has been piling up over the past decade that shows training can boost everything from pitch perception to visual and motor skills.

And now a new study says it may also improve language-processing abilities—a finding that lends support to the effectiveness of teaching letters and words to kids through songs, as TV programs like Sesame Street have done for years.

Researchers report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that music triggers changes in the brain stem—as well as in the cortex or outer brain layers as previously reported. Senior study author Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern University, says this means music training may not only improve a person's ability to decipher different tones but also enhances reading and speech functions, because the brain stem is a pathway for both music and language. If that is the case, music instruction may be used as a tool to help children with speech difficulties and learning deficits.


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