Rhythmic perception, music and language

This study tested the theory that specific language impairment (SLI) in children is caused by difficulties in processing rhythms. It used a range of experimental tasks to explore:

  • whether a difficulty with rhythm perception was associated with the speech and language difficulties experienced by these children
  • whether sensory difficulties with auditory cues to rhythm might be causally related to spoken language difficulties in SLI
  • whether musical interventions might be of benefit to such children.
Key findings:
  • Children with SLIs are impaired in processing rhythm in both speech and music.
  • Their difficulties appear primarily related to the basic auditory perception of rise time and duration, which are important for rhythmic processing.
  • Musical interventions may be of value for children with SLIs when the musical phrasing supports the prosodic phrasing.

45 children with SLIs and 50 typically developing children took part in the study. In both groups the children were aged on average 9 years.

This study builds on previous research by Professor Goswami, which found that children with dyslexia experienced certain difficulties with processing rhythms.