Guest Post: Music and Literacy: What’s the Connection?

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Learning Music and Being Literate:
The Big Connection

Want your daughter to improve her reading comprehension? Get her to take clarinet lessons. Want your son to improve his scores in math? Get him to take drum lessons. If you’re in education, do you want your students to learn how to listen better and solve problems? Recommend they join the school band (if there is one). The problem-solving skills between learning how to play music and improving basic literacy is clear. It improves the ability to process language and decode numbers. It also improves listening skills, sharpens the memory, enhances problem-solving skills, and, if the students are in a band, promotes teamwork.

How does this connection work? According to Deane and Patrick Alban at, musicians have developed brains that are better connected and more sensitive. According to scans, musicians’ brains have a larger corpus callosum, the bunch of nerve fibers at the base of the brain that allows the two sides of it (logical and creative) to communicate with each other. Also, playing music involves more of the senses, including hearing and touch. The way your fingers are placed on a flute when you blow into the mouthpiece produces a specific tone, or frequency. Even better, playing music has shown to increase blood flow to the brain, which brings more oxygen to it.

While it’s clear that music affects the brain in so many positive ways, how can your children benefit from getting lessons? There two major ways:

1. Beats and Notes
The beats in music are what make you tap your feet. In music, these beats are of a certain duration. For example, a whole note is held for four beats. Divide it in half and it becomes two half notes of two beats each. Then divide the half notes into quarter notes, which are worth one beat. You can further subdivide each beat into smaller and smaller fractions of beats. When a child learns how to count beats in a piece of music, he or she adds the number of beats for each note in each measure as he plays. In short, the child is constantly adding, regardless of the note’s value, which enhances math skills.

2. Parts to Whole
Every instrument in a band has a part in a musical composition. When children play music together, they learn how their individual parts work into the whole song. They also learn to listen to each other. This is an essential skill that can considerably improve reading and other language arts skills, for example, because reading involves putting individual words together to form sentences and paragraphs. Music also involves tone and mood, which a child can also learn to detect in what she reads.

Once you get your child to start music lessons, you must encourage regular practice. In fact, you might consider creating a hobby room in your house where your child can practice with no distractions. Then at the end of each week, get your child to play for you what she’s learned at her lessons and the music she’s been using for practice. This further reinforces what they have learned and also allows you to observe their progress. An even better idea is to record these sessions and later hear how your child develops as a musician over time.

The ability to read and write is the foundational skill for learning anything else. While acquiring those skills is essential, learning how to play music can vastly improve a child’s education. And all we need to do is encourage them.

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