Musical rhythm and reading development: does beat processing matter?

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2018 May 20. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13853. Online ahead of print.


There is mounting evidence for links between musical rhythm processing and reading-related cognitive skills, such as phonological awareness. This may be because music and speech are rhythmic: both involve processing complex sound sequences with systematic patterns of timing, accent, and grouping. Yet, there is a salient difference between musical and speech rhythm: musical rhythm is often beat-based (based on an underlying grid of equal time intervals), while speech rhythm is not. Thus, the role of beat-based processing in the reading-rhythm relationship is not clear. Is there is a distinct relation between beat-based processing mechanisms and reading-related language skills, or is the rhythm-reading link entirely due to shared mechanisms for processing nonbeat-based aspects of temporal structure? We discuss recent evidence for a distinct link between beat-based processing and early reading abilities in young children, and suggest experimental designs that would allow one to further methodically investigate this relationship. We propose that beat-based processing taps into a listener's ability to use rich contextual regularities to form predictions, a skill important for reading development.

Keywords: beat-based structure; phonological awareness; reading development; rhythm processing; temporal regularity.

Publication types

  • Review