Dyslexia and music: measuring musical timing skills



Over the last few decades, a growing amount of research has suggested that dyslexics have particular difficulties with skills involving accurate or rapid timing, including musical timing skills. It has been hypothesised that music training may be able to remediate such timing difficulties, and have a positive effect on fundamental perceptual skills that are important in the development of language and literacy skills (Overy, 2000). In order to explore this hypothesis further, the nature and extent of dyslexics' musical difficulties need to be examined in more detail. In the present study, a collection of musical aptitude tests (MATs) were designed specifically for dyslexic children, in order to distinguish between a variety of musical skills and sub-skills. 15 dyslexic children (age 7–11, mean age 9.0) and 11 control children (age 7–10, mean age 8.9) were tested on the MATs, and their scores were compared. Results showed that the dyslexic group scored higher than the control group on 3 tests of pitch skills (possibly attributable to slightly greater musical experience), but lower than the control group on 7 out of 9 tests of timing skills. Particular difficulties were noted on one of the tests involving rapid temporal processing, in which a subgroup of 5 of the dyslexic children (33%) (mean age 8.4) was found to account for all the significant error. Also, an interesting correlation was found between spelling ability and the skill of tapping out the rhythm of a song, which both involve the skill of syllable segmentation. These results support suggestions that timing is a difficulty area for dyslexic children, and suggest that rhythm skills and rapid skills may need particular attention in any form of musical training with dyslexics. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.