Musical training and auditory processing in dyslexia
Dr Shelley Hyman
It is known that people with developmental dyslexia tend to have deficits in phonological processing – the ability to hear or see words, break down the sounds in the words, and translate them into letters or converting letters into sounds.
Additionally, they tend to have difficulties in remembering sounds and words in their short-term memory and naming of symbolic and non-symbolic items in a quick manner.
There has been emerging evidence exploring the remediation of language problems in children through musical training. However, very little research has looked at the benefits of musical training on phonological difficulties in individuals with dyslexia.
An experiment by Paula Bishop-Liebler, from the University of London, and colleagues looked at the positive outcomes musical training from childhood could have on auditory temporal processing skills, particularly in the aspect of rhythm through measures of rise time (the rate of change in sound intensity), since rhythm is necessary for syllables in normal speech and has been found to be a deficit in people with dyslexia.
The participants were university students of which comprised of musicians with dyslexia, musicians without dyslexia and non-musicians with dyslexia. The musicians had received extensive musical training since childhood.
Batteries of phonological and psychometric tests were administered to these groups and looked at factors such as their overall cognitive abilities, their reading and spelling of words and comprehension of sentences, phonological awareness, phonological memory and ability to rapidly name familiar objects or items.
The auditory tasks measured rise time, rhythm, and sensitivity to intensity, frequency and duration.
The researchers found that musicians with dyslexia, overall, performed just as well as musicians without dyslexia in all the tasks. Musicians with dyslexia also outperformed non-musicians with dyslexia in all of the tasks.
These results suggest that musical training since childhood is a potentially beneficial for people with dyslexia, in terms of their phonological processing.
However, as noted, it would be better to see this effect in a longitudinal study (a study that repeatedly looks at the development of variable(s) of interest over different periods of time, e.g., from childhood to adulthood) starting from children with dyslexia training in music and see what sort of effects it has on their literacy and reading skills as well.
- Bishop-Liebler, P., Welch, G., Huss, M., Thomson, J. M., & Goswami, U. (2014). Auditory temporal processing skills in musicians with dyslexia. Dyslexia, 20, 261-279.