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Title: Rhythmic perception and entrainment in 5-year-old children
Author: Verney, John Parker
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2013
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Phonological awareness is an important component of early literacy and many children struggle to master its key elements, such as the ability to hear syllables and rhymes within the speech stream. The hypothesis explored within this study is that since music and language have parallel auditory perceptual mechanisms then training in rhythmic activities, such as music, could lead to increased understanding of the rhythmic nature required to decode early language and literacy skills. Previous research investigating the relationship between the constructs of music perception and phonological awareness has been promising, but generally inconclusive. Within the study I examine whether there is a link between the temporal processing required to process rhythmic entrainment in both phonological awareness skills and music. The data are interpreted with respect to a theoretical framework linking music and language based on temporal sampling. The ‘temporal sampling theory’ (Goswami, 2011) suggests that the decoding of both language and music is linked to the perception of accent and beat, and that the ability to hear the onset of these accents is critical within a stream of auditory events. To this end rhythmic entrainment tasks were presented in a range of musical activities including drumming along to music and singing nursery songs and rhymes. The musical and rhythmic activities were given in several different forms, to see which would be most effective in showing the children’s ability to synchronise to a beat. These were all presented at four pulse rates (400 ms, 500 ms, 666 ms, 1000 ms). Data were collected over a period of 2 years commencing in November 2009. In Study1 93 4 and 5-year-old children were tested and in Study 2 data were collected from a further 99. In addition to psychometric tests for IQ, Word Recall, teachers from the schools provided information from the children’s Foundation Stage profiles. Phonological awareness skills (syllable and rhyme) were also measured, as was reading development. Overall, children showed greater temporal accuracy (rhythmic entrainment) in keeping time with a musical piece than in keeping time with a metronome. Entrainment accuracy was greatest at the 500 ms rate, the only rate for which entrainment was as accurate with music and metronome. Individual differences in rhythmic entrainment whilst drumming were not linked to I.Q. Children were more temporally accurate when singing than in the rhythmic entrainment tasks and temporal accuracy at pulse rates of 500 ms (2 Hz) and 666 ms (1.5 Hz) showed some significant links to rhyme awareness and to reading. Temporal accuracy in singing a rhyming word on time was also greatest at 500 ms, although simply singing along to music did not show a preferred rate. Unexpectedly, temporal accuracy in singing was linked to I.Q., and was not linked independently to syllable and rhyme awareness. However, temporal accuracy in singing at the 500 ms rate was linked to reading. In Sample 2 of the PhD I report on the results of a seven-week three group matched intervention study of 99 children. The intervention was designed to investigate whether a short intervention of either music or ‘rhythmic speech’ based around the preferred rate of 500ms would lead to improved phonological awareness skills. Group 1 was given a programme of music games and songs, and group 2 was given a matched programme of games and ‘rhythmic speech’, without musical accompaniment or singing, to promote syllable and rhyme awareness. A third group, who received no additional training acted as a control. The results show that an intervention based on rhythmic structure in either a rhythmic speech form or in musical form can be successful in improving children’s phonological awareness skills. The rhythmic speech programme proved to be a more successful vehicle than the music intervention in improving the phonological skills of this group of 90 children. Both interventions were successful in improving both rhyme and syllable awareness, but the greatest improvements came in the syllable tests. There was further evidence that an intervention in either rhythmic speech or music would impact on the children’s future reading skills. Both interventions produced significantly higher correlations with a Word Reading test than the control group. There was no evidence to suggest that a musical intervention based on tapping along to a beat was of more benefit than one based on rhythmic speech. Overall the evidence gathered from the data in this study does suggest that there are direct links between rhythmic awareness, as measured by tapping to an isochronous beat, and the children’s capacity to decode phonological information. The favoured rate at which the brain processes information in both domains, thus linking them together, is at a pulse rate with an Inter Onset Interval set to 500ms. This study’s results could be used to support the development of rhythmic based interventions, in both a rhythmic speech and musical form in support of early literacy skills in 4 and 5 –year –old children.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Phonological awareness ; Rhythmic perception and entrainment