I am fascinated by how music effects the brain and its connection to dyslexia and ADHD. Music can have a powerful effect on the emotions and research on the mozart effect has shown that in short and long term studies music can produce improved mental abilities and behavioral problems. Children with learning disorders seem to struggle with the basics of music such as detecting changes in pitch and keeping a beat going. Indeed Rhythmic training can have a significant effect on children with ADHD.
Now Steven Mithen, a Professor at Reading University in the UK has put forward ideas on how music played a part during our evolution.
“He starts with evidence that music is not merely a side effect of intelligence and language, as some argue. Instead, recent discoveries suggest that music lays sole claim to specific neural real estate. Consider musical savants. Although learning-disabled or retarded, they have astounding musical abilities. One savant could hardly speak or understand words, yet he played flawlessly a simple piano melody from memory despite hearing it only once. In an encore, he added left-hand chords and transposed it into a minor key.
‘Music,’ says Prof. Mithen, ‘can exist within the brain in the absence of language,’ a sign that the two evolved independently. And since language impairment does not wipe out musical ability, the latter ‘must have a longer evolutionary history.’“
I can’t find the actual published paper but this coverage is from the Post-Gazette of Pittsburgh. Science Journal: Caveman crooners may have aided early human life
Previously on Myomancy: Mozart Effect Reprise, Mozart Effect Reprise Reprise
Stumble across an interesting piece:
“Individuals with crossed hand-eye preference seem to be much better at sports like gymnastics, running and basketball. When the dominant hand and the dominant eye are on the same side of the body, its centre of gravity shifts towards the dominant side. In sports such as gymnastics, activities like tumbling, vaulting and swinging from the rings or high bar depend upon equal action from both sides of the body. A shift in the focus of the weight to the dominant side will add a slight tendency to twist to the body. Any such twists away from perfect alignment, if large enough, mar performance, resulting in lower scores“.
Bilateral Co-ordination: Why dexterity alone just will not do: some lessons from a young piano player
The internet is fantastic. Without being able to search through archives of news and science reports this blog would be impossible. What prompted this appreciation is the discovery of an BBC News article Poor rhythm ‘at heart of dyslexia’ from 2002.
“Researchers from University College London (UCL) found dyslexic children were less able to detect beats in sounds with a strong rhythm. But children who read exceptionally well for their age were found to be much better than most at spotting rhythms“.
The study its based on is from Professor Goswami, from the Institute of Child Health at University College London, who wrote the snappily entitled Amplitude envelope onsets and developmental dyslexia: A new hypothesis.
“Before testing, the children were trained by using the two extremes of the continuum. The 15-ms stimulus (which yielded a clear beat) was presented as the sound of two toys (Tigger and Eeyore) swinging on a double-toy swing. The back-and-forth rhythm of their swing coincided with the beat in the signal. The 300-ms stimulus was presented as the sound of Winnie the Pooh sliding down a solid plastic straw in the form of a spiral (he got nearer to the child or further away as the training sound got louder and quieter, respectively). The children then were asked to decide whether subsequent stimuli (given by computer through headphones) belonged to Winnie the Pooh or to Tigger and Eeyore“
The result led Professor Goswami to conclude:
“…individual differences in sensitivity to the shape of amplitude modulation account for 25% of the variance in reading and spelling acquisition even after controlling for individual differences in age, nonverbal IQ, and vocabulary“.
On Ababasoft they host a selection of music and rhythm games. Music and rhythm have an important role to play in the brain and in the treatment of learning difficulties. Games like these may be a good way of getting you child into music.
Bramhall is a small suburb of Stockport in the north-west of the UK and is home to the Bramhall Neuro-Developmental Therapy Practice. The practice is run by Lyn Wells who uses a variety of techniques to help children and adults with learning difficulties. I travelled up to Bramhall to see first-hand a treatment that intrigued me.
Interactive Metronome is a treatment for ADHD and other learning difficulties that involves developing the child’s or adult’s sense of rhythm. This connection between learning problems and poor rhythm is strong but not obvious.
fMRI studies are used to show what areas of the brain are working the hardest when performing specific task. This technology was used to study the brains of music professions whilst they played various pieces of music and scales on the piano. One of the areas of the brain strongly linked to rhythm is the cerebellum, an area of the brain that has been repeatedly linked with learning difficulties. Several treatment programs such as DDAT and Brain Gym focus on training the cerebellum through physical activity to improve academic performance. This approach seems to work, at least for some people with learning difficulties. Interactive Metronome attacks problems with the cerebellum with a double-whammy. Physical movements such as clapping train up the areas of the cerebellum the control the gross-motor skills whilst simultaneously the rhythmic aspect train the self-control and timing area of the cerebellum. These in turn have an impact on general coordination, mental processing speed and the ability to focus your attention.
The Interactive Metronome system consists of two sensors, one for the hands and one for the feet, headphones and a computer. The computer plays via the headphones a regular beat, sounding rather like a cow-bell. The user claps their hands or taps their feet in time with the beat. The sensors detect this and feed the information into the computer which analyses whether the clapping or foot-tapping was early, late or spot on.
The first step of any treatment is an assessment of your current capabilities. This included fourteen different tests including simple hand clapping, clapping whilst balancing on one leg, and alternating clapping with one hand on the thigh whilst tapping the opposite foot. This last one is a real test of cross-lateral ability. For each test the average number of milli-seconds between when the beat was and when you reacted was reported. Anything within 15 milli-seconds is counted as spot-on.
My results showed an average inaccuracy of 90.1 milliseconds across all the tests. This places me in a below-average category. I’m sure a few years ago I would have been much worse but my DDAT treatment and subsequent practice with Bop-It and various Playstation games such as Eye-Toy Groove have helped.
The treatment process with Interactive Metronome is adapted to the individual but will generally consists of fifteen hours using the equipment split into three sessions a week over a number of weeks. In total a treatment program will consist of approximately 35,000 claps.
A training session is very similar to the assessment process except the user gets feedback through the headphones and visually. When you hit a beat spot-on a sound plays in both ears. If you are early a different sound is played into the left ear only and if it is late, another sound is played into the right ear. These sounds are matched by visual feedback on the computer monitor. The feedback guides the user so that their claps or toe-tapping gets closer to the metronone’s beat. This feedback is introduced slowly and learning to integrate it is important in developing concentration, sensory integration and focusing attention.
Unfortunately there are relatively few practitioners around (the Interactive Metronome web site has a list) so finding one may be pot luck. The practitioners also have to be good because the basic mechanics of the training, e.g. clapping, could be dull. So its important, especially for children with attention difficulties, for the practitioner to engage the child and keep their attention.
Overall Interactive Metronome is a treatment well worth considering. It is not silver bullet to education and behavioral problems but it can help. If you are in the UK then Bramhall NDT can provide a friendly and effective centre for treatment.
Research: Neural Basis of the Comprehension of Musical Harmony, Melody, and Rhythm [ PDF ].
Also on Myomancy: Rhythm and Dyslexia, Cerebellum More Than Just a Motor, The Cerebellum and ADHD
Music and sound play a large part in alternative approaches to learning difficulties and can have a big impact on children on the autistic spectrum. Work on ‘The Mozart Effect‘ (more here and here), music and IQ and music and language make a strong case for a direct link between music and how our brain works.
Over on Cognitive Daily they have a post Music training helps people understand emotions in speech. This examines a study that demonstrates our ability to judge other people’s emotions can be improved by learning to play the keyboard. A lack of empathy is a common, almost trademark, symptom of autism and aspergers. Learning to play the piano or keyboard, though very difficult for autistics, might be worth the effort because of all the different ways it can enhance the brain.
See Keep It Simple for more about learning the piano.
There is lots of evidence of a link between spoken language and music but no one knows exactly what it is. This is why approaches like Sound Therapy have a problem being accepted by mainstream science. No one can explain how it works. This 2002 study gives a little bit a clue: Voxel-based morphometry reveals increased gray matter density in Broca’s area in male symphony orchestra musicians .
This snappily titled report shows that in orchestral musicians one of the areas of the brain linked to language is larger than in non-musicians. There are two explanations for this. Either people born with larger Broca’s Areas have a tendency to become musicians or playing classical music can increase the size of your Broca’s Area. Now there is no evidence I can find that directly links the size of Broca’s Area to language ability but it is certain damage to Broca’s Area impairs language. So it is probable that stimulating and enlarging Broca’s Area would help child with dyslexia and other language problems.
The Mozart Effect, a controversial piece of research that claimed that listening to Mozart could temporary raise spatial awareness (an important part of IQ), is once more under attack. Cognitive Daily has a write up of the latest research which found no evidence of the Mozart Effect.
There are certain traits that are evident in dyslexics which are not universal but are very common. For example, many dyslexics have poor balance and coordination skills but I know dyslexics who can move very graceful yet be unable to tell left from right. One such marker or indicator that a child or adult has a learning problems is a poor sense of rhythm. Two studies looking at this are Amplitude envelope onsets and developmental dyslexia: A new hypothesis (2002) and Deficits in beat perception and dyslexia: evidence
from French [PDF] (2004). Both found significant differences in ability between dyslexics and non-dyslexics. From the 2002 study: “We show significant differences … in amplitude envelope onset detection [and that] sensitivity to the shape of amplitude modulation account for 25% of the variance in reading and spelling acquisition even after controlling for individual differences in age, nonverbal IQ, and vocabulary” and from the 2004 study “The results suggest that deficits in the perception of cues important for speech rhythm may be universal in developmental dyslexia.“.
BBC News coverage of the 2002 study.
Article on Drums Against Disability from Dyslexia-adults.com.
A treatment based on rhythmc training: Interactive Metronome.