Does studying music help with learning English grammar?

Is there a connection between musical rhythms and grammar?

child playing violinResearcher Reyna Gordon* thinks so.  She is training students in music, hoping that by doing so they can learn complex English grammar.

In music and in grammar, human brains get used to certain patterns, according to Gordon.  For example, when a person says a subject and a verb in a sentence, the listener expects to hear an object of that verb next.  Young children learn this pattern of expression subconsciously as they are learning words themselves.

When children start to speak, it is in single words—”Mom,” “Dad, “mine.”  By two years old they are speaking in phrases and little sentences such as “Teddy’s hat,” “Give me” and “Me want.”  Little sentences become longer ones, morphing from simple sentences to compound sentences joined by “and.” By five years old, most children have evolved their ways of expressing themselves into complex sentence patterns.

But some children never reach the complex pattern stage, says Gordon.  A small percentage of the population has what is called “specific language impairment.” They continue to express themselves in phrases and in short, simple sentences.

gordon thinks training such children to listen to and to produce musical rhythms can help them expand their English grammar.  This is because the same parts of the brain which are involved with understanding musical rhythms are involved in understanding English grammar.  By exposing children to music patterns, Gordon hopes to expand their grammar patterns.

Other research has shown a strong correlation between studying music and learning languages.  Children who study music before seven years old can process subtle differences in sound better than other children, and this helps them learn languages, both their mother tongue and foreign languages.

For more on Gordon’s research, go to

*Director of the Music Cognition Lab in the Department of Otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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