5 Ways Piano Helps Children Develop Reading Skills

There are so many great reasons to study piano, but did you know there is a strong link between studying piano and development in reading skills in young children? Imagine your children becoming more excited about reading because studying piano makes it easier for them to learn. What if you see their scores going up in school after they start piano classes?

At a time when more people engaging in screen-based activities and spending less time reading, we could help our children become greater learners throughout life by participating in activities that build reading skills. When children learn how to read well, all other subjects become much easier.

According to a study conducted in 2018 by Renaissance, an educational assessment company, we can see that there is great room for improvement in reading. “An analysis of more than 9.9 million students found that only those students who read 15 minutes or more per day made accelerated reading gains.” (1) According to the study, most students, approximately 54%, were reading less than 15 minutes per day. (1)

Children can become more interested in reading if they become more proficient and confident with the basic tools of learning how to read. Studying piano has been shown to promote reading in many ways.

1. Piano Improves Phonemic Awareness (awareness of sounds in words)

A major component of reading readiness is being able to perceive differences in speech and to develop auditory awareness, and many studies demonstrate a measurable advantage in those who study music. According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, by authors Gordon, Fehd, and McCandliss:

Acquiring fluency in reading requires children to transform symbolic information provided by print into mental representations based on their prior language experience. This literacy acquisition relies heavily on the process of phonological awareness. In particular, children’s ability to focus their attention on sub-syllabic phonological units within words is a critical factor for mastering the early challenge of alphabetic decoding. Basic auditory processing appears to be a building block of phonological awareness (Walker et al., 2006), and music training is associated with both superior auditory perception (Seither-Preisler et al., 2014) and enhanced language skills (see Patel, 2008, for a review). (2)

2. Piano Fosters Reading Comprehension: From Red Bird to Blue Bird

As I think back to my own childhood, I can see a strong connection between piano studies and reading improvement. In second grade, each student was given a group bird name. When I learned that I was in the “red bird” group and realized that those in the “blue bird” group were reading more advanced and interesting books, I decided to “soar” to the occasion and work more diligently at reading. Of course the extra effort in reading helped, but at the same time, I was also taking piano lessons from a very encouraging piano teacher. By the end of the school year, I became part of the “blue birds” and I found learning all subjects became much easier, especially reading comprehension.

Scientists have been studying the connection between music studies and improvements in reading, math, and many other skills. At the University of Southern California, a five-year study compared young children who studied music with those who did not have regular music lessons. Neuroscientists at USC found that music instruction appeared to accelerate brain development resulting in improved language skills, speech perception, reading skills, and fine-tuning of the auditory pathway (3). Furthermore, those who study piano specifically, develop additional strengths including the enhancement of nerve connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain and increased speed of communication between the hemispheres. Also, because pianists learn to use both hands, the area of the brain focusing on hand dominance is more evenly developed (4).

I really noticed accelerated cognitive development in our own son when he was very young, but at the time, I really didn’t “connect the dots.” We simply wanted him to have an education in music and of course, being around two musician parents did encourage his development in music. However, it was very interesting to us that in about fourth grade, his reading scores soared. By grade four, he was reading six levels above grade level, and I now attribute most of this rapid growth to his study of the piano. Additionally, I have students now who tell me that they are making honor roll for the first time in their lives after taking piano classes for just one year.

3. Piano Improves Memorization Skills

Almost all of us can remember songs we learned in childhood including favorites like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Row, Row, Row Your Boat. When words are set to music, it is much easier for most people to remember them. It can also work the other way around as well. Once children began to recognize the melody in a new song and begin to hum along, it is then much easier to create lyrics to match the rhythm and emotion of the song. Even very young students can learn how to make up their own lyrics to match simple melodies and also create music to fit existing words in a poem or other writing. This connection between verbal memory and music has been demonstrated by some scientists to be a greater promoter of reading than phonics (5).

4. Piano Promotes Spacial Temporal Reasoning for Reading, Math, and Even Chess!

One of our piano students recently won several awards in chess tournaments. We jokingly told him that it was his piano studies that helped him to become a chess champion. He said it was the chess that helped him in piano! Either way, we now know from many studies that the ability to think several steps ahead (spacial temporal reasoning) is strengthened when studying piano. This same skill set is used in mathematics, map-reading, and more. Particularly, “in learning proportional reasoning, which has been shown to be difficult to teach U.S. school children using traditional language-analytic methods” (6).

5. Piano Expands Vocabulary and Improves Verbal Sequencing Skills

A comprehensive study in 2009 compared young students who studied piano for three consecutive years with students who were not enrolled in any music programs. At the end of the three-year period, the students with piano classes scored significantly better in vocabulary and verbal sequencing abilities. (7)

These are just five ways studying piano can help students not only learn, but excel in reading. Although all ages can certainly benefit from learning piano, many studies show that certain key centers of the brain develop more efficiently at younger ages, making it an excellent and fun activity for preschoolers and young elementary students.

Please contact us when you’re ready to jumpstart your child’s musical and reading journey!