Music, Langauge, and A Non-tradiational Collaboration

April 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

Music and Mind

Photo credit: Vanderbilt’s Music and the Mind website:

When I began the semester, I was interested in the way I saw music functioning in contemporary speculative fiction as a sort of language or communication tool that could transcend traditionally static boundaries, so I wanted to learn more about the relationship between music and language. In pursuit of this interest, Jay led me to a research initiative at Vanderbilt called “Music and the Mind” that works to bring researchers from across campus together to study music from various disciplinary perspectives—psychology, neuroscience, medicine, education, music performance—and often through collaborative efforts transcending these traditional research boundaries. One such researcher, Reyna Gordon, explores the cognitive relationship between music and language, thus situating her research at the intersection between linguistics and neuroscience. In a nutshell, her research adds to a growing number of studies that are interested in charting the neurological correlations between linguistic and musical processing. The implications of this correlation—that the brain responds identically to variations in musical beats as it does to syllables of language—fuels her more recent research on music training and grammar development in young children (See “Musical rhythm discrimination explains individual differences in grammar skills in children”). Ultimately, her work seeks to discover if musical training may actually improve language development in children and if so, whether this type of training may be useful for helping children with specific language impairments.

Brain and notes image

Photo credit: Vanderbilt’s Music and the Mind website:

Getting to know Reyna over the course of this semester has been an exciting and surprisingly fruitful experience. Her research tapped into some latent interest I had during my undergraduate years (I have a B.S. in Education) regarding how children and adolescents learn (or struggle in their attempts to learn) to read. Our interactions this semester not only introduced me to  resources that I can use to think more deeply about the way music functions within culture and literary contexts, but they have also led to a non-traditional collaboration. Reyna has actually asked for my help in developing the stimuli for testing in her next project using children’s literature. Next week, I will be (along with two of her lab assistants) leading the discussion of a research article that we will be using as a model for building our own testing paradigm and research methodology. And this summer, I will be able to participate in the implementation of the study and even learn how to read the EEG results. Who would have thought?


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