Sense of rhythm helps reading

24th August 2007 at 01:00
WHEN CHILDREN ask for a drum kit, prudent adults should consider stocking up on books. Academics say youngsters with a strong sense of rhythm learn to read easily, while those with little or no sense of rhythm struggle to make sense of the written word.

Researchers from Queen's University in Ontario, who examined factors that determine poor readers, said: "Rhythm is an important part of language, becoming salient almost from birth." For example, at seven-and-a-half months, babies are able to differentiate between the cadences of English and those of Japanese.

The researchers observed 53 children over three years, from the ages of 6 to 10, testing their reading ability repeatedly. Using clapping, tapping and marching tasks, they also tested their sense of rhythm and ability to pick up rhythmic sounds.

Over the course of the study, the researchers found that sense of rhythm was a clear indicator of reading ability: those children with the weakest sense of rhythm were usually the weakest readers.

And sense of rhythm at 6 years old also reflected a child's later reading ability: those with a poor sense of rhythm were poor readers at 9 or 10 as well. What's more, 10-year-olds who had difficulty reading were far more likely to have little sense of rhythm than 6-year-olds who were unable to read.

Meanwhile, those children who were more sensitive to rhythm were better able to use linguistic rhythms to help decode more difficult written words.

The researchers said: "As children progress ... reading increasingly requires the ability to tackle polysyllabic words, which involve the rhythmic alternation of strong and weak syllables.

"Rhythmic intonation is necessary for reading polysyllabic words, as it is required in order to assign stress properly."

The researchers concluded that more work is necessary before they are able to establish how to use this link in the classroom.


Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today